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Attorney: Employers can take steps to keep holiday parties fun and not a liability

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PHOENIX — It’s that time of year again, when workers’ thoughts likely turn to the annual antics of the holiday party.

After all, for most of them, it’s the one time of year they get to kickback and really get to know their coworkers while celebrating the holiday season.

But for employers, it could turn into a little bit of a liability nightmare.

“A holiday party can result in many unintended consequences, but almost all of them can be managed either ahead of time or during the event,” attorney John Balitis with Fennemore Craig said.

Balitis said it will come as no surprise to employers that the biggest risk at a holiday party is serving alcohol.

“They are potentially responsible for the consequences of alcohol consumption if a problem arises,” he said.

Balitis said he recommends using a ticket system for parties held at the office or moving the party off-site and shifting the responsibility to the venue. The tickets can even be used there as well.

“Theoretically, people who are consuming the alcohol would be limited in terms of how much they can have based on how many tickets they receive,” he said.

Balitis also said employers need to remember that workplace laws and policies apply, even at holiday parties held elsewhere.

“The employment relationship doesn’t end when someone leaves the office to attend an office-sponsored holiday party,” he said.

This means situations such as sexual harassment, discrimination and compensation for injuries must be handled the same as if the festivities were taking place in the office. Also, part-time employees who attend the party but are expected to work must be paid.

Balitis said employers would do well to avoid avoid religion when deciding the theme of the party.

“If a party is focused on a particular religion in terms of how it’s themed – a Christmas party, for example – people who don’t practice that particular religion that aligns with the theme may not feel comfortable or welcome at the party,” he said.

KTAR’s Ashley Flood contributed to this report.

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