Author: Mike Mitchell and Tabby George, Fisher & Phillips, LLP

Summary

  • During the holiday season, employers begin to worry about minimizing liability that may stem from the employer's annual holiday party. However, whether it is the holiday party, a summer barbeque, a 5k run to benefit a charitable organization or any other employer-sponsored function, there is some risk to the employer.
  • Employees who are not exempt from overtime requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) may claim attendance at an employer-sponsored event is compensable work time. See Wage and Hour Claims by Nonexempt Employees.
  • Providing employees with the opportunity to socialize with co-workers in a relaxing environment is an excellent way to improve employee morale. However, the presence of alcohol and the relaxed environment increase the likelihood of unwanted sexual advances and other sexually harassing conduct. See Sexual Harassment Claims.
  • Serving alcohol to employees, whether on or off the clock, can lead to negligence claims for property damage or physical and emotional injuries; employer liability for employee actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior (Latin for the boss is responsible); and social host or dram shop liability under state law for over-served employees who injure themselves or others. See Alcohol Related Incidents.
  • With respect to employer-sponsored events, negligence claims generally arise when an intoxicated employee leaves the event and injures a third party or a third party's property. See Negligence Claims.
  • If an employee is hurt during an employer-sponsored charity basketball game, or in the employer's summer baseball league, the employee may claim workers' compensation benefits. See Workers' Compensation Claims.