As we head into the holiday season, businesses are planning holiday parties for their employees. Now, I enjoy these parties as much as the next person! It’s a time to count the blessings of the past year and to come together in a more social environment.
Here’s the warning: Don’t underestimate the potential liability that comes with serving alcohol at parties, especially if an employee is injured in a driving accident, or injures (or kills) someone after leaving the party. Or what happens for the employee who’s scheduled to work after the party and makes a critical error on the job? This is not meant to be moral issue; it’s an issue of good judgment.
I recently heard of a company having an offsite office party and giving out cups of beer and Jell-O shots. The employees drove themselves to this party, and the company wasn’t checking ids. This was exasperating because this company could get into hot water if anything bad happened.
If you distribute free alcohol at an office party, you are responsible for the employees who consume the alcohol. So, for instance, say that one of your employees has a few beers and drives himself home, then gets pulled over. The police officer can smell the alcohol and has them take a breathalyzer test, which turns out to be just over the legal limit. Because you, the company, gave them the beer, there’s potential for you to get in trouble.
Here are some thoughts:
- Don’t make the party a mandatory event.
- Consider an afternoon party rather than an evening party (sans alcohol).
- If you’d like to make alcohol available, consider having a cash bar. The employees are then liable for their own actions because they purchased the alcohol themselves.
- Limit the number of drinks.
- Provide safe rides home just in case.
- Make sure there’s plenty of food.
- Provide a taxi service. Collect keys at the beginning. Only give out keys if they can prove they are sober.
- If any of your employees are under 21, require everyone over 21 to wear a wristband.
- Create a time limit system. At the college I (Erin) graduated from, there was a monthly campus-wide party. There was a list of everyone who was over 21, and those persons received a wristband when they arrived. Every 30 minutes, they were allowed to get a beer, but they had to give the bartender their previous empty one. Each time they got a beer, the bartender would make a mark on the wristband.
I love a party just as much as the other person, but I’m not willing to have my company at risk because I made alcohol a part of the festivities.