It’s Holiday Party Season – Let’s Talk About Risk!

December 3, 2018

It’s December, which means the holiday season is officially in high gear and that it’s now socially appropriate to listen to holiday music. If your calendar is anything like mine, you may have a few holiday parties coming up – you may even be hosting such a party.

If so, what are some of the legal risks associated with hosting a party?

In Pennsylvania, social host liability laws impose civil liability claims against a social host who provides alcohol to a minor who injures themselves or someone else. Generally, a social host will not be responsible for such injuries in the event the consumer of alcohol is an adult. In Klein v. Raysinger, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that it is the consumption of the alcohol, rather than the furnishing of the alcohol, which is the proximate cause of any subsequent occurrence.

Social host liability laws apply to both individuals and employers, provided they are not selling alcohol. In the event alcohol is being sold, dram shop laws would apply and could impose liability on the seller of alcohol for overserving an individual and subsequent injury to themselves or to another.

Even though risk may be limited on the social host liability front (provided minors aren’t being served), as an employer, there are additional legal risks that come into play when hosting a holiday party. For example, particularly when there is alcohol involved, company holiday parties could provide a more relaxed environment which blurs lines and results in inappropriate behavior between employees. This could result in violations of employee codes of conduct, harassment or discrimination claims.

If you’re planning on having a holiday party, consider reminding employees that this is a workplace function and that the same workplace rules apply. If alcohol will be provided, consider limiting the amount available to each attendee and offering rides home. Consider designating a manager or other supervisory personnel to monitor the event to try to prevent inappropriate behavior.

An alternative that some companies have chosen in light of the above risks is to remove alcohol entirely from their holiday parties, or hosting an alternative to a holiday party such as a volunteer opportunity or another type of team-building activity.

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate, we hope that you have a safe and fun holiday season with colleagues, family and friends. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

Matt Landis is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University Commonwealth School of Law and works regularly with employers and employees.