Holiday parties are a great way of saying thank you to employees and provide a great team-building opportunity. They are also a great way of increasing collegiality.  When planning your holiday party, it is important for employers to remember the legal responsibilities that accompany serving alcohol at social events.  Employers have the responsibility of ensuring that their employees make it home safely from holiday parties and if they fail in that responsibility, they could face legal liability.

Employers always have a duty to provide a safe workplace and that duty continues to social venues for organized work functions.  The responsibility of employers was demonstrated in the case of Jacobson v. Nike.  In that case, a young employee drank eight beers with his supervisors while on the job, then continued on to a local pub where he drank several more beers.  Unfortunately, he then decided to drive and was involved in a single vehicle accident with devastating injuries.  In this decision, the court found the employer 75% liable for the employee’s injuries, holding that they had an obligation to monitor the employee’s alcohol consumption and ensure that he was not “over-served”.  That standard of care is the same high standard that is applied to bars and restaurants.

The best way to minimize the potential risk associated with serving alcohol at work functions is to ensure that everyone has a safe ride home.  Arrange taxis for everyone and take steps to ensure that no one gets behind the wheel.  Other steps that you can take include:

  • Have a written policy regarding alcohol at company events and clearly state the prohibition against drinking and driving.
  • Consider holding the event at a licensed establishment.  That establishment will then also have a responsibility to ensure that attendees are not over serviced.
  • Limit the number of drinks by not having an open bar and instead providing employees with drink tickets.
  • Make sure that you have sufficient food and nonalcoholic beverages available.
  • If the event is being hosted at a hotel, provide employees with the option of “taking the elevator home”.

There are many benefits to holding holiday parties for employees.  Planning ahead to ensure employees can get home safely will allow you to enjoy your holiday party without exposure to liability.