Celebrate safely: How to minimize the liability risks of office parties


After months of gatherings being canceled, postponed or modified, many are eagerly anticipating this season’s holiday celebrations. Considerations for protecting participants from COVID-19 are most likely at the forefront of your mind when selecting the venue, date and even the menu for any seasonal event this year. With so much effort presently going to COVID risk mitigation, it’s understandable that you may overlook some of the potential risks that office celebrations may pose to the well-being of your practice.

Participation, employee dynamics and labor laws all come into play when planning an office party. The Dentists Insurance Company advises employers to establish clear guidelines when organizing any work-related event. If care isn’t taken, practice owners can be held liable for misconduct.

Alcohol and holiday parties often go hand in hand. But providing alcohol to employees — even after hours and away from the office — can be a cause for a liability claim. If an employer invites most or all employees to a hosted social event and attendance is mandatory or highly encouraged, the event can be considered an employment function. Because alcohol reduces inhibitions, remarks and behaviors can easily turn inappropriate. Allowing an event to become too casual and unprofessional can set the stage for a harassment claim.

Before you deck the halls, remember that harassment and antidiscrimination policies still apply
In one case reported to TDIC, a dentist hosted a holiday party at his house. Toward the end of the night, the dentist, who appeared to be intoxicated, allegedly approached an employee and made an inappropriate advance. The employee pushed him away and abruptly left his house in tears. She later stated that the dentist had expressed he wanted to date her and made comments about her personal life. She stopped showing up for work and hired an attorney.

In another case, a dentist took his staff out for drinks in celebration of the holidays. Afterwards, his office manager and hygienist went out to a bar. The office manager alleged that the hygienist made a pass at her. The office manager quit a month later and hired an attorney. In both cases, there were five-figure settlement demands.

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