What kind of holiday party will your company host this year? Will it be a boozy affair featuring powerful cocktails, a packed dance floor, and a party atmosphere?
Or will it be a tempered conference room potluck with no alcohol, brutally surface-level conversations, and attendees who are back at their desks 45 minutes later?
It’s likely that your company is planning something in the middle. You probably don’t want a booze fest but you want to show your employees a good time. And that’s natural, especially in today’s work climate. Alcohol at corporate events is becoming more and more expected in an era where the startup culture has helped to make alcohol at work functions far more common.
Currently, around half of all workplaces offer alcohol at their holiday party and less than half (47%) regulate the amount of booze that attendees can consume, according to research from Alcohol.org. Meanwhile 20% of people binge drink at those parties, which the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines as drinking an amount that brings your blood alcohol level to 0.08% or above.
“Alcohol changes people’s perceptions. They interact differently with one another and there are inherent risks associated with that,” said Keith Markel, partner and co-chair of the Labor and Employment Department at Morrison Cohen in New York. “If someone acts inappropriately, an employer can be held responsible for that conduct because they created the environment.”
The inherent risks aren’t hard to comprehend. Sharon from human resources drives home drunk and gets injured in a car accident. Tom from marketing sexually harasses the new intern. Steve from accounting begins physically fighting with another coworker after arguing about politics. Such risks have led to 13% fewer companies offering alcohol at holiday parties in 2017, according to a study by Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
If you’re set on serving alcohol, an obvious question arises: How can you keep employees safe—and limit liability? We’ve got you covered. Follow our 10-minute guide to alcohol liability at corporate events:
Understand what could go wrong
Even during a holiday party, an employer is obligated to create a safe work environment. When people drink, their inhibitions are lowered, and bad situations can arise. Here are some examples of what could go wrong:
Preparing for party time
There are plenty of things you can do before the party even begins, such as:
Guarding against over-indulgence
Preventing sexual harassment
Alcohol could increase the chances of sexual harassment—and as an employer you must guard against creating an unsafe environment. Here are a few practical ways to do so at your holiday party:
Following these steps can mitigate risk and help company leaders and party planners relax during the experience.
“No one is saying ‘don’t have fun.’ No one is saying ‘don’t dance.’ No one is saying ‘don’t have a band or a DJ,’ ” said Markel. “Employers need to communicate that we had a good year, accomplished goals, and want to celebrate with one other. We just need to do it in a responsible way, respect each other, and not cross the line. That’s basically the language in every beer commercial.”