Office holiday parties can build morale, offer opportunities for more casual interactions among workers, and reward employees for a productive year—but did you know they can also be a source of liability for your company?


According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), employers in some states may be liable for the actions of their employees that occur during the course of or as the result of a company-sponsored social event, especially if the employer serves alcohol.


If you choose to have alcohol at your holiday party, consider the following tips to help keep you and your employees safe and reduce the potential for liability:alcohol and office holiday parties

  • Review your insurance coverage before the party.
    • If the party will be hosted onsite, determine whether you are covered for injuries or damage to property if you serve alcohol on your premises, or if you need to purchase separate special event coverage or an additional liquor liability policy.
    • For gatherings held offsite, such as in a restaurant, request a copy of the venue's certificate of insurance and determine if you need additional coverage.
  • Don't make attendance at the party mandatory. Employees should understand that no work will be conducted at the party.
  • Make it clear before the party that overindulgence and other offensive behavior are not acceptable.
    • Remind employees that alcohol is no excuse for illegal or inappropriate behavior, such as sexual harassment.
    • Consult your employee handbook and make sure that any company-sponsored festivities aren't in violation of the policies in your handbook (such as those relating to an alcohol-free workplace).
  • Avoid open bars.
    • Approve the types of drinks that will be served in advance and consider the effects—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one 12-ounce beer has about the same amount of alcohol as one 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor.
    • Consider a cash bar or provide a limited number of "free drink" tickets to each employee.
    • Be sure there is a variety of non-alcoholic drinks available as well.
  • Stop offering alcohol at least 1 hour before the party ends. Serve coffee, desserts and plenty of bottled water during this time.
  • Make arrangements for employees to get home safely.  Offer free cabs and enlist designated drivers. Remember—you could be on the hook if employees leave a company-sponsored party drunk.
  • Make it a daytime event or family party. Consider  serving non-alcoholic beverages only and make it a family-oriented party instead.


For more information on serving alcohol during company-sponsored holiday parties, check out the SBA's blog on Tips to Avoid Company-Sponsored Holiday Party Liability. You can read more about keeping employees safe in our section on Safety and Wellness.


And be sure to download our FREE "Must-Do" HR Checklist for more tips on avoiding company liability!


Image Credit: TheCulinaryGeek


Topics: Human Resources, Employee Health and Wellness, Employee Safety

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