Before you know it, Christmas will be here, and it will once again be time for gift shopping, house decorating and office parties. Many businesses have Christmas or holiday parties to show their appreciation for employees; awards are distributed, stories are told and alcohol is served in copious amounts. After all, the attendees of your office party are adults, so what could be the harm? Plenty, if you aren’t careful about the way in which you serve alcohol during office parties.
Serving Alcohol at Office Parties: When Minors are Present
The first legal issue with serving alcohol at office parties is the presence of minors. Most companies employee at least a few people under the age of twenty-one, and the same rules apply at your office party as in a bar or restaurant. If you are caught serving alcohol to minors, you could be fined by the government and be prosecuted under applicable laws. It is imperative that you identify all employees under the age of twenty-one, and make sure that none of them is served alcohol.
Serving Alcohol at Office Parties: Social Host Liability
Many states have laws that govern “social host liability”, which essentially deal with the ramifications of intoxication. These states find that bartenders or social hosts are at least partially liable for accidents or crimes that occur after serving a patron too many drinks. It is the responsibility of the host to monitor alcohol consumption and to “cut off” any attendees who are becoming intoxicated. Please don’t assume that these laws apply only to clubs, bars and restaurants; the host of a party at home or at the office can be found equally liable.
Serving Alcohol at Office Parties: Respondeat Superior
There are several states that have no regulations governing social host liability, but your company could still be found liable for the intoxication of an employee under a doctrine called respondeat superior. Essentially, this doctrine provides that employers are liable for damage caused by employees while they are in the process of conducting work-related activities. There is some debate among legislators as to whether or not office parties qualify as “work-related activities”; however, I wouldn’t want to take the chance.
Serving Alcohol at Office Parties: Secondary Offenses
In addition to the possibility that an intoxicated employee might cause damage or injury during the party or on the way home, there are plenty of secondary offenses that might occur. When people become intoxicated, they are more likely to say and do things that would normally be beyond their appreciation for ethical or responsible behavior. For example, what if one of your employees becomes drunk and comes on to another one of your employees? Not only will the intoxicated employee be sued for sexual harrassment, but your company could potentially be held liable as well.
Serving Alcohol at Office Parties: Tips for Safe Office Parties
In order to minimize the possibility that your company will suffer at the hands of an alcohol-related offense, consider these tips:
1. Hold office parties at other locations. Rent a hotel recreation room or have it at the CEO’s home. This minimizes the possibility that the party will be considered work-related.
2. Don’t make office parties mandatory. If your office holiday party is mandatory and you are serving alcohol, it will be considered a work-related event and you will probably be held liable for any damage that ensues.
3. Hire a bartender. If you have someone serving drinks, he or she can closely monitor the intoxication levels of your employees and cut those off who are becoming too inebriated. If you have alcohol on tap and no supervision, you can’t possibly know how much your employees are drinking.
4. Have a car service. Provide free car services for employees who have had too much to drink. Physically remove the keys from an employee who does not seem fit to drive, and have a designated driver who can drive everyone home.
5. Stamp minors’ hands. Take a tip from your local night club and stamp the hands of employees who are under the age of twenty-one. This will help the bartender to easily identify underage guests.