Happy New Year, you've been served!
It's easy to avoid common mistakes that can ratchet up your civil liability following home or office New Year's Eve parties, according to Tiffany Hildreth, a partner at Strasburger & Price LLP in Austin and an expert in labor and employment, as well as appellate litigation.
She says it starts with the invitation. Even though it may sound like a buzz kill, Hildreth strongly recommends that boilerplate language be placed in the invitation making it clear to everybody, and to a potential jury later on, that you will not condone any misconduct.
"Proper conduct is expected, and employees acting inappropriately will be asked to leave, and will face further discipline as required," Hildreth suggests for invitations to company gatherings.
She says if it is a company party, everybody who is in the work unit involved must be invited to the party, to avoid the appearance of favoritism.
She says the invitation to a company party should also specify what kind of attire is required.
"Then, what you need to do is make sure you put reasonable restrictions on the use of alcohol at the party, and you have informed your employees well in advance of these restrictions," he said.
She says policies like a limit in the number of 'drink tickets' or access to the bar is advisable for either company or private parties. She says it isn't unreasonable to assign each partygoer a 'minder' who can keep track of their whereabouts and sound the alarm if the individual is acting inappropriately.
Misuse of alcohol is the number one cause of host liability for private parties, and it is a very important issue at company parties as well. Hosts, for example, can be held legally liable if a party guest gets into a car and causes a crash while drunk on booze he or she obtained at the party.
And for a company party, never, ever, ever hold the party at the home of the boss or the supervisor. She says there is too much liability. Choose a party venue instead.