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Legal pitfalls at holiday parties

office holiday partyThe Daily Record had its holiday party over the weekend, and yours might be just around the corner. But before you raise your glass in celebration of the season, I thought I’d pass along some thoughts on legal issues relating to work party soirees.

Getting toasted

What if you’ve had one too many drinks and need a lift home? Does your employer have to pay for your transportation? Your employer only has to keep you safe when you are on the clock, so if the party is not during company time the employer is most likely not responsible for providing a ride.

“Driving home is not normally considered part of the work day unless the employee is paid for that time,” notes John P. Hancock, Jr., a lawyer with Butzel Long in Detroit.

Dancing the Night Away

If you feel like cutting a rug after one too many eggnogs and then hurt yourself — or someone else — on the dance floor, does workers’ compensation apply?

Hancock said it depends on where the party takes place.

“If the company has the party at a restaurant or other public place and there is a cash bar rather than an open bar, the injuries resulting from intoxication may not be covered by workers’ comp,” he says.

“Each state is different, but if it is a party run and supplied by the employer and especially if it is on the company premises, it is likely any injuries at the party will be covered by workers’ comp,” Hancock added.

Ways to Recover

If you get hurt by a drunk coworker, there are a couple of legal recourses.

“The injured employee or bystander could always go after premises liability,” Hancock said. This means he could sue the owner of the property where the injury occurred. And you can sue for negligence.

Careful what you say….

Finally, make sure that you watch what you say, even though you are not in the office. Teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t extremly offensive likely won’t rise to the level of sexual harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted),” the agency has said.