The Not-So-Merry Side of Holiday Parties


It’s the season when companies get together to celebrate the holidays and the beginning of a new year. But amid the celebration, things can and do go wrong. Let’s take a look at a few holiday party claims of the past.

Employment Practices Related Lawsuits

  • Television station KTLA in Los Angeles reported that a former Taco Bell employee sued the company and franchise owner, alleging that a holiday party held last year at the fast-food restaurant “descended into a drunken mess that included open sex.” The employee claims that her supervisor provided alcohol to staffers, several of whom were “overserved.” The supervisor and co-workers were fired after she reported the incidents at the restaurant to Human Resources. After their termination, the employee alleges, she was threatened, and her car window was shattered by someone associated with her former co-workers. She eventually quit and filed a lawsuit claiming she suffered “actual, consequential, and incidental financial losses” and that Taco Bell violated anti-discrimination laws.
  • In another case, a manager invited several co-workers to a second location following an office holiday party to continue celebrating. Toward the end of the night, the manager and one of his employees ended up alone in the hotel room, and the manager sexually assaulted the employee. The EEOC filed a sex discrimination and harassment lawsuit against the company.

Drunk Driving Accidents

  • An employer hosted an afternoon holiday party with free-flowing booze. After the celebration, one of the company’s inebriated employees decided to drive himself home. He was involved in an accident that injured the other driver and killed a passenger. Because the driver’s drinking occurred during his employment, the employer was held vicariously liable for his actions.

Mitigate Holiday Party Liability Hangovers

Before the holiday party, employers should implement these measures:

  • Serve non-alcoholic beverages and plenty of food.
  • Make attendance at the company holiday party voluntary.
  • Consider hosting a lunchtime party or, if it’s a dinner party, have it on a weeknight.
  • Provide clear expectations of acceptable behaviors by reminding employees of the company’s zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving and harassment.
  • Inform managers and supervisors they are expected to be “on duty” during the party.
  • Monitor alcohol consumption.
  • Have clear start and end times for the party.
  • Cut off alcohol service before the end of the event to lower the likelihood that employees will leave under the influence.
  • Limit the use of an open bar (consider issuing a certain number of drink tickets instead).
  • Provide transportation or reimburse employees for transportation to and from the event, especially for employees who appear to be impaired.
  • Be sensitive that employees may practice many different faiths and religions and that no religion should be discriminated against.
  • Evaluate the company’s insurance program, including Liquor Liability coverage, for adequate protection.

Employers should plan to minimize their liability exposures while providing room for everyone to enjoy the holiday spirit.