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Premises liability issues may plague holiday office parties

Liability issues can arise under New Hampshire law when a company holds a holiday party for its employees. There are several types of mishaps that could occur, necessitating some advance planning for the organized company that wants to cut down on the sizable risk that can occur. Issues of premises liability and social host liability are two areas that can develop problems at the rambunctious office party.

One obvious area of liability is with respect to safety on the premises. Wherever the party is held, the employer must provide some basic security and proper maintenance of the grounds and facilities. The usual slip-and-fall incidents are more prevalent where a party with alcohol is transpiring, including the leaving of dangerous wet areas throughout the party premises. When the drinks are served by the employer's bartender and resources, allowing a drunken party-goer to drive away in an unacceptable condition could result in a major claim by injured third parties and/or by the employee against the employer.

Another area where the employer could become responsible is the issue of sexual harassment. Employers must see to it that employees are not sexually harassed on the premises by anyone. If the party has alcohol and it is on the employer's premises, sexual assaults and harassment are more likely to occur.

If an employee is being sexually harassed at work, the holiday office party may give the predator a greater advantage to engage in improper advances. It may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back and leads to sexual harassment complaints being filed. For the employee who is the victim of harassment or who suffers an injury as a result of a negligently supervised party, a claim against the employer under federal and/or New Hampshire law may be appropriate. In addition to premises liability claims, an injured employee may in some circumstances be able to make a claim for workers' compensation coverage for being injured while on the work premises and especially if during work hours.

Source: bizjournals.com, "How to avoid holiday party pitfalls", Angela Gonzalez, Dec. 18, 2017

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