Holiday parties are a great way to celebrate a year of hard work. And often, alcohol is included in the mix. To help ensure your party is a safe one, here are some tips to keep in mind before your team gets tipsy.
A drink or two can be a relaxing way to unwind at the company holiday party. But alcohol can be a liability if party goers over indugle. For example, you might have attendants who drink too much and later cause an accident, employees who, under the influence of alcohol, act in ways that violate your harassment policy, or minors present who could mistakenly be served alcohol. You also have more potential liability if the dinner is required than if it is an optional, non-required event, as employers may be liable for employee misconduct and negligence when the employee is acting “in the course and scope of employment.”
So how can you protect both yourself and your employees? Here are 8 tips:
- Do not make the event mandatory and make it clear in your communications about the event that attendance is optional. Make sure that managers and supervisors do not imply that failure to attend would count against the employee in any way (i.e. not being a “team player”).
- Avoid conducting any work-related activities, such as award presentations or company updates, at the event. To further support the non-work nature of the event, hold it off-site and outside of regular business hours and allow employees to bring a guest.
- In advance of the event, set expectations around respectful behavior and discourage employees from drinking excessively. Remind employees that company policies, including harassment and other conduct policies, apply at the event.
- Set up procedures to ensure that no minors or visibly intoxicated attendees are served. If possible, hire professional servers (or hold the event at a staffed facility) who will, as part of their job, politely refuse to serve anyone who they perceive has had enough to drink.
- Consider hosting a cash bar where employees have to purchase the alcohol. This will reduce the likelihood of a claim that the employer provided alcohol directly to employees.
- Provide employees with a set number of drink tickets so that each attendee is limited in the number of alcoholic drinks they will be served.
- Avoid entertainment and event locations that may be potentially provocative, risqué, or offensive as these atmospheres, especially when combined with alcohol, may become conducive to sexual harassment.
- Plan for how employees who have been drinking will get home. This may involve providing taxis or public transit options at no cost to the employees, arranging for other group transportation, or encouraging employees to designate a driver at the beginning of the event.
While these steps can help reduce liability, they will not completely eliminate the risks. If you do decide to provide alcohol at your next company holiday party -- or any other company event -- make sure your employees celebrate safely and responsibly.