Holiday parties are coming to town! Between Thanksgiving, the winter holidays, and New Years, companies like to get together and celebrate the holiday season. Company triumphs, star employees, and future goals are all lauded and proclaimed. At such a festive event, you wouldn’t think liabilities were a danger, but the reality is that liabilities are always something to worry about. Under federal law, whether you are on or off the clock, employers are responsible for the safety of their employees and for all insurance claims, and probably the biggest liability risk is serving alcohol at company holiday parties.
The Problem with Alcohol at Company Holiday Parties
It’s fun to relax with coworkers with a drink or two. However, having alcohol at your company holiday party can become a liability issue. In many states, including New York, there is a liquor liability law that makes the establishment serving alcohol responsible for the actions of the person drinking if that person is underage. That means that if an underage employee drives away from the party after drinking inappropriately and injures someone in a car accident, your company could potentially be held responsible–especially if the employee’s insurance can’t cover all the damages.
Avoid any legal issues regarding alcohol at your company’s holiday party by providing a safe way for employees who have been drinking to get home. Some companies cover the cost of an Uber, some offer incentives for other employees to be designated drivers, and some make sure their party is close to public transportation.
Another safety measure is to hire servers or bartenders to serve the alcohol instead of letting employees serve themselves. The servers can keep an eye on who should not have any more drinks or who is too young. Professional bartenders are actually trained to notice who is intoxicated and who is not.
Stop any alcohol about an hour before the party ends to give people’s bodies a chance to recover from whatever they have been drinking.
Keep any alcohol available to wine and beer, so employees don’t have access to truly hard alcohol.
Food slows the body’s absorption of alcohol, and can also limit the amount of alcohol employees consume. Drinking alcohol at company holiday parties may serve as something to do while socializing. Food provides a safer alternative, and also makes it physically more tricky to balance a plate of food while also carrying a drink.
A party in your office puts you as the sole responsible party for your underage, intoxicated employee’s actions if your employee does not have enough insurance to cover the damages of an accident. A party at a restaurant or event hall places some of the responsibility onto the venue, so it does not all fall on you.
When employee family members are present, the employee is less likely to over-drink and is more likely to keep all behavior appropriate in general.
A party in the middle of the week encourages less drinking because everyone has work the next day. A Friday night or even Thursday night party might give employees the idea that they can get drunk without suffering any consequences at work the next day. In addition, a party in the late afternoon or early evening inspires less drinking than a party later at night.
Before your holiday party, make it clear to employees in writing that underage employees are not allowed to drink, as well as any other alcohol limitations you deem appropriate to ensure everyone remains safe.
Employers and higher-up employees should set an example for everyone else by only engaging in a small amount of drinking, or even not drink at all. It is the responsibility of an employer to always remain on the ball and not become too influenced by alcohol to think clearly should any situations arise.
At the law firm of Weinstein, Chase, Messinger, & Peters, we can help guide you towards having a safe company party, as well as help you deal with any liability issues that may arise. At the end of the day, you have to come up with a system that works for you and your company so you can all have a happy and safe holiday season!