Everyone loves a good holiday party. It is a time to unwind with co-workers and show appreciation for another year of hard work. But if you are the boss, you may have heard about or been a part of a holiday party gone awry and are terrified of the possible legal ramifications.

The first issue that usually comes to mind is alcohol and driving. And while you should be concerned about whether your state has a “social host” law that may impose liability for the post-consumption behavior of your employees, there are other legal issues that you should prepare for before practicing your “So You Think You Can Shake like Santa” routine.

It goes without saying that alcohol loosens the inhibitions, so if you chose to offer alcohol at your gathering, do so with care. Make sure you have a drink limit and/or a bartender trained to spot risk in order to reduce yours. Even still, work-related tensions or inappropriate personal tendencies seem to be exacerbated when the eggnog starts flowing.

Employees—management included—should be reminded that while everyone should have a good time, the holiday gathering is a work function, and as such, work rules still apply. A gentle pre-party reminder could be the difference between Bob bearing it all for his secret office crush and him thinking twice about whether doing so would run contrary to the sexual harassment policy. The same goes for any manager who might pause before taking his team to post-party adult entertainment—yes, this happens. Managers need to keep in mind that employees may not feel comfortable saying no in situations that may make them uncomfortable.

Even the best-planned events still can have their challenges. In order to get out ahead of any potential problems, designate one or two management personnel to keep a close eye out for any problems and diffuse them before they get out of control. Extending invitations to significant others can positively change the tone of the gathering and allow everyone to leave the tensions of work back at the office.

Not all offices are created alike and it is good idea to consult the management team regarding the type of holiday gathering that is appropriate for your office. Team planning helps avoid preventable blunders; for example, associating a gathering with a specific religion to the exclusion of some.  Because a holiday gathering is meant to capture the interest of a variety of employees, you may find that a lunch or afternoon event would be better received by most employees than an evening event.

Taking affirmative steps to facilitate a memorable and safe holiday party will put your mind at ease this season.  And while there is never a foolproof way to prevent every possible mishap, employers who approach events responsibly have much less to worry about. As you celebrate another year of success and appreciation for your teams, we wish you nothing more than a light-hearted and safe celebration season. Cheers! 

About the author: Nichole Atallah is an associate with PilieroMazza in the Labor and Employment Group.  She may be reached at [email protected].