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Office holiday party liabilities – part 2

The holiday season is upon us. In many workplaces, this is a time of year when employees are given the opportunity to take a well-deserved break from their work and celebrate the season with their colleagues.

In our last post, we discussed sexual harassment concerns at an office holiday party. In today’s post we outline three other areas of potential liability at such an event.

Discrimination

Federal laws protect employees from discrimination based on certain protected classes. When poorly planned, an office holiday party could make an employer particularly vulnerable to religion- or disability-based discrimination lawsuits. An employer should:

  • Throw a general holiday-themed party—rather than a Christmas party or any other party specific to a certain religion,
  • Pick a party venue that is not affiliated with any religion—no churches or religious community centers and
  • Ensure that the party venue is accessible to all employees with disabilities.

FLSA

If an office party takes place during or after regular business hours, and attendance is—or is perceived to be—mandatory, then employees may be eligible to be paid for the time they attend, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This may include overtime pay.

Workers’ compensation

Employees are eligible for workers’ compensation for any injuries they sustain on the job—and this includes work-sponsored events. However, if an employee is injured due to their own inebriation at an office party—even if the employer provided the alcohol—Texas law does not hold the employee liable for such injuries.

Employers should bear in mind the above guidelines in planning their office parties to help avoid unnecessary liabilities.

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