The week after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of office holiday party season for businesses across the U.S. including medical practices. Unfortunately, what should be a happy team building event and an act of gratitude produces a variety of preventable risks that I get calls about every year. Given the recent events in the news related to employment lawsuits and sexual harassment, and our current socially and politically charged environment, medical practice leaders must take this warning more seriously than ever.
Here's a basic risk management checklist for professional hosts:
Attendance is Always Optional
The optional nature of the event should be included in every discussion and all written materials about the event. Do not penalize or ostracize those that do not attend and do not allow other staff to do so.
As we have covered before, insurance is the first line of defense. Proper limits of general liability, workers comp coverage and an EPLI policy to cover non-injury claims are all vital.
Be Clear, It''s still an "Office" Party
Regular business standards of language, conduct, sexual harassment, and all other rules in your employment policy manual that control your risk of workplace claims of bias and discrimination still apply. The personal conduct of owners or managers in particular must always be "zero tolerance" and exemplary. They have a position of authority over others in attendance that may feel pressured or intimidated into participating or prohibited from objecting. If you have a partner that can't behave after two drinks, get him in and out, the liability is yours.
Control the booze
The best advice is no alcohol. Most of the injuries, accidents, assaults, and inappropriate behavior that occur at work events are alcohol related. That said, many hosts and guests expect alcohol as part of a social event, so make sure there are enforced limits on the amount of alcohol or number of drinks (drink tickets, limiting hosted drink service to a specific time, etc.) any one guest consumes. Some experts suggest offering only beer, wine, and low alcohol content mixed drinks. A generous serve-yourself open bar of hard liquor is a ticket to disaster and leads heavier drinkers to take and offer others shots. Let your guests know in advance that anyone appearing overly intoxicated will be "cut-off" and have a plan to get them home.
Feed Your Guests
For those serving alcohol, food service is required. Eating helps keep attendees full, slows their consumption of alcohol and keeps busy them so they will hopefully drink less and not have an empty stomach.