I am taking this opportunity to “reprint” a blog by C. J. Westrick, Owner of HR Jungle, an HR Consultancy in San Diego:
“Last year you told us about the Marriott Hotel lawsuit and it made me afraid to serve alcohol at a holiday party for my employees. Can you offer suggestions to reduce my company’s risks but might allow a few drinks?”
My HR Survival Tip
I’m glad you remember the Marriott’s lawsuit… it changed life as we know it when alcohol is involved. Companies used to believe that, once you got your employees safely back home after a company event that included alcohol, we were home free in regard to risks.
The court case showed companies weren’t off the hook until employees were no longer under the influence. Period. In the Marriott’s situation, an employee got home safely and then left again while still under the influence. That employee ended up being responsible for an automobile death and the Marriott ended up paying.
If you choose to include alcohol in your company events, it appears there is no longer a risk-free way to do it. However, there are a few ways you can lower your risk:
- Limit the alcohol to beer and wine. Keep plenty of non-alcoholic drinks on hand.
- Stop serving alcohol about an hour before the festivities end and break out the coffee and sodas.
- Hire a professional bartender who will keep an eye on your employees when they order another drink and will inform you if they feel an employee has had too much.
- Never, ever allow mistletoe into the room. This is ripe for sexual harassment claims and you won’t get off by saying it wasn’t paid time… it’s a company event and that’s sufficient to make you responsible.
- Arrange for a company-paid taxi service to take your employees home and again to return the next day for their car.
- Include the employee’s significant other in the invitation. Not only might this result in better behavior from the employee but it also works to the company’s advantage by engaging the family.
- Ask for people to be designated drivers for others.
- If you are having the event at or near a hotel, get special rates on a number of rooms so employees can make arrangements to spend the night. This requires early registration so plan ahead.
- Remind employees this is a company event and their coworkers and managers will be witness to any embarrassing behaviors. (It’s truly amazing how often employees forget this!)
As stated in the Marriott case, your company realizes a benefit from having a holiday party. Whether or not you label it as such, a holiday party is actually a team building event. Don’t let your event become something you or your employees will regret.