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Company holiday parties can be great for morale!

Most employees love a party, especially when the boss is buying. And at the end of the year, it can be good for morale to celebrate everyone’s hard work. But employers have to think about possible repercussions from employees drinking too much, for example:

  • Drunk driving and possible motor vehicle accidents
  • Workers' compensation for falls and other injuries
  • Discrimination claims, including sexual harassment and religious discrimination
  • Injury to third parties
  • Premises liability
  • Underage drinking

In some states social host liability is limited to people hosting parties at which minors are served alcohol. In other states, employers may be liable for underage drinking at work functions, and there are still other states in which the law is less clear. The safest action is to develop a policy and guidelines, with advice from your legal counsel and input from the human resources department, then distribute that policy to all employees.

Here are some suggested guidelines:

 

  • Have an alcohol policy. Make clear in pre-party communications that minors can’t drink and, if they do, they may be terminated. Also make it clear that anyone who provides alcohol to minors also may be terminated. Some companies serve only beer and wine at company functions to limit the effects of stronger liquors. Others take their cues from sporting events and have “last call” an hour before the event is scheduled to end.
  • Hire professional servers. Have someone serve alcohol rather than permitting employees to serve themselves. This gives professional bartenders the opportunity to identify employees who drink too much. The bartenders also should be authorized—and encouraged—to card anyone who looks younger than 25.
  • Select the location thoughtfully. Hold the party offsite at a location that’s easily accessible by public transportation. Consider using safe ride programs, providing car service or a party bus, or rewarding employees who agree to be designated drivers with a gift card for gas.
  • Have plenty of food and nonalcoholic drinks. People who are eating, especially at a venue with few tables and seats, tend to drink less because it’s difficult to juggle a drink and a plate. Food also helps minimize the effect of alcohol on the system, and a good selection of nonalchoholic drinks gives everyone more
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