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The Company Holiday Party: Celebration or Bad Hangover?

Having a holiday party and a having a safe time are not mutually exclusive. It’s the kind of party an employer throws that may make the difference between a lawful dream and a legal nightmare.

The culprit for potential legal nightmares resulting from company holiday parties will probably come as little surprise: alcohol. Drunk driving, accidents, injuries, fights, violence, outrageous sexual behavior, exhibitionism, and sexual harassment almost always come down to too much of it.

Courts in most states have ruled that employers who serve liquor may be liable for injuries to spouses, guests, or third parties as a result of accidents caused by intoxication at a company party. The case we reviewed yesterday is but one example.

Tips for Avoiding Liability

The safest policy is to have an alcohol-free, family-oriented holiday party for employees. This way the whole drinking-and-driving issue is moot. (Of course, you might still need to make sure employees aren’t slipping outside for a smoke and a beer or something stronger).

If, however, alcohol is served, or available, follow some simple and necessary rules:

  • Distribute your substance abuse policy again. All employees should have read it before, and now they’ll have the chance—and obligation—to read it again. Stress it. Post it. Communicate it widely. Include a sentence or two clearly stating that the policy includes not only the use of substances at the workplace, but also at work-related or work-sponsored events. The policy should make clear that over-consumption of alcohol will not be tolerated.

Are your workplace policies effective? Do you have policies to cover all key employment issues? If not, we do, and they’re already written and ready to use. BLR’s Essential Safety Policies has most every safety policy you’re likely to need. Examine it at no cost and with no obligation to purchase. Get details here.

  • Have the party somewhere other than at the workplace if you are serving alcohol it’s best to. It is less likely to be considered a work event.
  • Do not conduct company business at the party. Don’t invite clients and customers to drink with your employees. Don’t expect or suggest to employees that they entertain, sell to, or generally imbibe with clients and customers if some appear.  
  • Don’t require attendance or even suggest that it’s important. Make it strictly voluntary!
  • Have the party planned and managed by employees and supervisors whom you regard as responsible and levelheaded. They should be the type who think ahead and would be able to deal with various situations before they get out of hand.
  • Give out drink tickets, and limit them to two apiece. And limit provision of liquor to the tickets—no cash bar. Be sure alcohol service is cut off well before people expect to leave.
  • Hire a professional bartender who will refrain from drinking at the party, and will know to serve measured amounts of liquor.
  • Serve food, and lots of it, and make sure that soda, juices, and water are available as well.
  • Have a few employees act as designated drivers, who don’t drink at all, and have the responsibility of driving people home who request rides. Or provide taxis for this purpose. Let all employees know that these rides are available to them.

Get the safety policies you need without the work. They’re in BLR’s Essential Safety Policies program. Try it at no cost and no risk. Find out how.

Policies for Every Need

It is essential to have policies to deal with all key workplace issues. BLR’s Essential Safety Policies provides you with the tools you need to build effective policies in all essential employment areas, including alcohol and drugs.

We provide sample strict, standard, and progressive versions of each policy, so that you can determine which approach is best for your workplace and your employees.

You can use these policies "as is" or adapt them to your organization’s particular needs and style. Each section in the manual provides you with comprehensive lists of points to cover if you want to adapt one of the policies or draft your own. Then you can incorporate these policies into your employee handbook, too, to make sure all employees are made aware of your workplace rules and requirements.

And Essential Safety Policies doesn’t stop there—it gives you a detailed list of other important things to consider when you implement these policies, such as interrelation with other policies, employee education, legal considerations, and more.

Take these kinds of materials and multiply them by more than two dozen key safety topics, and you’ll know why Essential Safety Policies is such a valuable tool for busy safety professionals. These policies provide a ready-to-modify or use-as-is safety handbook for all your workers, with minimal effort on your part.

The policies are backed by a tutorial on policy writing and essential materials such as handbook receipts. A CD version is also available.

If your organization could benefit from supplementing (or perhaps having for the first time) a complete set of ready to use safety policies, we highly recommend a 30-day, no-cost, no-obligation, look at this program. Go here and we’ll be pleased to send it to you.

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