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Throw a Holiday Party, Not a Free-for-All

(posted: December 6th, 2018)

Holiday party tips

Are you throwing a holiday party this year? Are your employees planning it? Whether they plan it or you do, you need to make sure things don't go off the rails.

There is always a risk in holding any company-sponsored function. Serving alcohol, while common and anticipated, only compounds the problems. According to one study, 36% of employers reported behavioral problems at their most recent company party. These problems involved everything from excessive drinking to off-color jokes to sexual advances to fist fights.

Since most employers still want to hold holiday parties despite the risks, you can reduce your legal liability by observing as many of the following recommendations as possible:

  • If you've had troubles in the past or want to organize the most conservative holiday party possible, have a catered lunch at your offices without alcohol present.
  • If, like most employers, you do serve alcohol, invite spouses and significant others so that there will be someone there to help keep an eye on your employees and, if necessary, get them home safely.
  • Always serve food and always have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available.
  • If your party is a dinner, consider serving only wine or beer (plus non-alcoholic alternatives) with the meal, not hard liquor.
  • When providing alcohol, don't have an "open bar" where employees can drink as much as they want. Instead have a cash bar or use a ticket system to limit the number of drinks. Close the bar at least an hour before you plan to end the party. Switch to coffee and soft drinks from there on.
  • Let your managers know that they will be considered to be "on duty" at the party. They should be instructed to keep an eye on their subordinates and they should not attend any "post-party" parties.
  • Consumption of alcohol lowers inhibitions, and impairs judgment. This can result in employees saying and doing things that they would not ordinarily do. Remind employees that, while you encourage everyone to have a good time, your company's normal workplace standards of conduct will be in force at the party, and misconduct at or after the party can result in disciplinary action.
  • Hire professional bartenders (don't use supervisors!) and ask them to report anyone who they think has had too much. Ensure that bartenders require positive identification from guests who do not appear to be substantially over 21.
  • Arrange for no-cost taxi or other driving service for any employee who feels that he or she should not drive home. At management's discretion, be prepared to provide hotel rooms for intoxicated employees.
  • Never, ever, hang mistletoe! Mistletoe + alcohol = lawsuit.
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