Holiday Party Precautions

The holiday season is upon us and as employers, many of you will celebrate in that great American tradition: you will throw a big Christmas party for your employees, serve them alcohol and then turn them loose on an unsuspecting public.

Consider what could happen while the booze is freely flowing at your company holiday celebration: the alcohol emboldens a potential sexual harasser and he becomes an actual harasser of one of your staff, or a conflict between employees is fueled by alcohol and an actual physical confrontation erupt.

Another likely scenario is that your inebriated assistant gets into a car after you bought drinks at the holiday happy hour and runs down a pedestrian.

Whether the pedestrian could win a lawsuit is debatable. Back in 1987, the Texas Supreme Court said, “The risk and likelihood of injury from serving alcohol to an intoxicated person whom the licensee knows will probably drive a car is as readily foreseen as injury resulting from setting loose a live rattlesnake in a shopping mall.”

The general rule in Texas is, however, that a social host doesn’t incur liability for serving alcohol to a guest.  However, a plaintiffs’ lawyer would be happy to create new case law with a suit against an employer for encouraging an employee to get drunk at a company function and then taking no steps to protect the public from that employee on the way home.

You don’t want to be the one to provide the courts with the test case to see if an employer is responsible for its intoxicated employees. Even if you win at trial, you will lose the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to have an attorney defend the suit, you will waste valuable production time while in depositions or trial, and you and your employees will suffer a demoralizing emotional blow.

You also should be concerned about the effect that hosting a big drunken blow out will have on your ability to enforce your drug and alcohol policies at the office. This kind of inconsistency does not engender respect for you in your employees.

For the same reason, as the boss, you should watch your own drinking and behavior at any company function.

Your best decision is to honor your employees during the holidays with a party that is nonalcoholic. If you choose to serve alcohol, take a few reasonable precautions:

  • Hire a professional alcohol provider with its own trained bartenders and give them the discretion and responsibility to monitor the alcohol consumption and deny additional drinks to anyone who appears drunk.
  • Limit the number of drinks per person with a ticket system.
  • Offer a variety of nonalcoholic drinks and limited alcohol.
  • Do not make alcohol the focus of the party. Have lots of other entertainment and activities.
  • Always invite your employees’ spouses to any party, because they may be more likely to monitor the employees’ drinking or act as the designated drivers.
  • Have a party at lunch so that food is emphasized rather than cocktails.
  • Don’t serve salty, thirst-inducing appetizers.
  • Limit the amount of time that alcohol is served so that the drinking is discontinued two hours before the party’s end.
  • Provide car pools, designated drivers, or rides home at the company’s expense.

You can avoid all these issues by considering other ways to honor your employees at Christmas. If you took a poll, you might find that most of your employees consider the annual company Christmas party an unappealing chore in an already busy season.

Instead, take the money you would spend on a party and divide it among your employees as Christmas bonuses. I promise you that your employees will not miss the holiday party at all.

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