Alcohol at Company Parties: What You Need to Know

During this time of year, many employers host holiday celebrations for their employees. Because it’s the holidays, many organizations relax their policies and serve alcohol at these events. If your organization is considering serving alcohol, here’s what you need to know:

  1. The organization can be sued for negligence. If an employee imbibes too much alcohol at your event and then drives home, your company can be held liable if s/he injures (or worse, kills) someone while driving under the influence. Can your organization limit your liability? YES and we’ll describe how you can do that below.
  2. Your policies regarding harassment and discrimination still apply. Alcohol can lower inhibitions and, all too often, this can manifest itself in bad behavior. It’s not unheard of for a co-worker to inappropriately touch another co-worker; for someone to tell a vulgar joke, or for someone to call a co-worker a derogatory name. Any inappropriate behavior must be addressed in the same manner as the company would during the normal course of work. The party-like atmosphere and use of alcohol is no excuse for bad behavior at any work-related event.
  3. You can minimize your risk for liability at holiday parties by taking a few simple precautions:
  • Consider hosting an event that is alcohol-free. This could include catering lunch at your facility instead of hosting a big event with spouses at a restaurant or hotel. It can also include putting an end to the alcoholic punch that’s served the last day of work before Christmas. Instead, opt for a non-alcoholic punch that won’t impair your employees’ ability to drive home. If your employees are only attending the party for the alcohol, the organization has bigger issues they need to address than whether or not the party is going to include alcohol.
  • If you choose to serve alcohol, host the party off-site, outside of regular office hours, and make it completely voluntary.
  • Make sure food is served. Food – especially high protein foods – can help slow down the rate of alcohol absorption. It doesn’t have to be fancy…cheese & crackers, nuts, etc.…will all help slow the affects of alcohol on the body.
  • Limit how much alcohol your employees can consume. Provide drink tickets to employees to limit their consumption of alcohol to 1 or 2 drinks during the course of the event, and don’t have an “open bar” where employees can purchase additional alcoholic beverages. Also, limit the amount of time the bar is “open”.
  • Hire a professional to serve the alcoholic beverages. A professional bartender is experienced in monitoring the alcohol consumption of his/her customers. Allow the bartender to use their experience to minimize how much liquor is imbibed.
  • Make sure alcohol isn’t served to employees who are under age 21. These individuals should be clearly identified with a bracelet, pin, etc. so that the person serving the alcoholic beverages knows the person is not legally permitted to drink.
  • Task your managers and supervisors with being “on duty” to monitor behavior to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand.
  • Educate employees about the dangers of drinking and driving and remind them that your workplace policies are still applicable at the holiday party.
  • Take away the keys of those who are obviously intoxicated. Make arrangements with a taxi or rideshare service (at no cost to the employee) to provide transportation home for those who feel they cannot drive home safely.
  • Check your organization’s general liability insurance policy, and consult with your broker to review any additional coverage you may need.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season!

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