It is the holiday season, a time for office parties and charity events. While gatherings can provide opportunities for professionals to mingle casually with their co-workers and clients and can help boost employee morale, they also can prove to be a liability for businesses that serve alcohol. The U.S. Department of Labor states that holding an office holiday party with improper use of alcohol can make employers vulnerable to liability.
A bartender is legally liable for serving alcohol to a patron who becomes intoxicated and then injures a third party. Does a business face a similar exposure when it hosts a social event where alcohol is served, such as an open house, holiday party or employee picnic?
According to the Insurance Information Institute, liquor liability exposure is not limited to those whose primary business is the sale of alcoholic beverages. Most states currently have social host statutes or common law that holds private event hosts liable for the actions of their guests. You are considered a social host if you provide alcohol to individuals in a non-commercial manner.
The following measures promote the safety and sobriety of your employees and guests at company-sponsored events:
- Serve drinks to guests rather than offering a self-serve bar.
- Do not pay for alcoholic drinks. Guest will drink less if they have to pay for the drinks themselves.
- If you feel you must furnish alcoholic beverages, consider a drink voucher system to limit the number of drinks served. Or, serve alcohol for only a short period.
- In advance of the event, set expectations around respectful behavior and encourage employees to drink responsibly.
- Place table tents at each bar and on tables reminding employees and guests to drink responsibly.
- Offer a range of low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks.
- Require servers to measure spirits.
- Always serve food with alcohol.
- Close the bar well before the scheduled end of the party.
- Do not offer a “last call” as this promotes rapid consumption.
- Never raffle alcohol or hold contests that involve buying or drinking alcohol.
- If your event includes a program or speaker, schedule it for after dinner and drinks are served. This allows additional time for alcohol to wear off.
- Plan for how employees who have been drinking will get home. Arrange alternative transportation. Anticipate the need for alternative transportation for all employees and guests and make special transportation arrangements in advance of the party. Encourage all employees and guests to make use of the alternative transportation if they consume any alcohol.
- Entice guests to take advantage of safe transportation options by reimbursing for taxis or promoting a designated driver program.
Alcohol is a substance that reduces the function of the brain, impairing thinking, reasoning and muscle coordination. All these abilities are essential to operating a vehicle safely. Interactions between alcohol and other substances in the body such as certain medications or illegal drugs increase impairment and make driving more risky.
While these steps will not eliminate all the risks, they can help reduce liability and help your employees celebrate the year safely and responsibly.
— Lisa Robinson is a senior program manager with the National Safety Council