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Serving Alcohol at the Office Party? 10 Tips for Minimizing Liability
by Don Ho Branzuela on December 17th, 2011

It’s that time of year again, when companies get ready to host an end-of-the-year office party. If alcohol is being served at the event this year, here are 10 tips for minimizing your company’s liability.

Think through the ramifications (lawsuits and other hassles) before the event takes place. As BLR Senior Legal Editor Susan Schoenfeld pointed out in last week’s feature article, there are a great number of legal issues related to alcohol abuse and employment.

  • Review insurance policies. Be sure that you are aware of coverage and exclusions.
  • Host the party off premises. Move the party to a club or restaurant, and hold it during nonworking hours.
  • Make attendance optional. Do not require attendance, or even recommend that employees attend; make it strictly and absolutely voluntary.
  • Post a "greeter" at the door. A greeter can ensure employees don't arrive intoxicated and/or carrying their own liquor into the event.
  • Limit the number of drinks. One way to control alcohol consumption is to provide employees with tickets for drinks. On a similar note, don’t just have ice-cold beer and wine. Serve non-alcoholic beverages such as juices, sodas (both regular and diet), and water.
  • If possible, have professional bartenders serve drinks. Professional bartenders know how to portion drinks and how to politely cut off people when they've had too much. Don't let employees pour their own drinks!
  • Don't be afraid to cut people off. Shut down the bar if things appear to be getting out of hand. It’s also a good idea to stop serving alcohol at least an hour or two before guests leave.
  • Identify at least one attendee who won't be drinking. Sober attendees can help identify co-workers who have had too much to drink and need a ride home.
  • Post gatekeepers for monitoring attendees. In a lawsuit where an employee has hurt himself or herself or others or harassed a colleague, the court is sure to ask if the employee appeared intoxicated. The gatekeeper also can suggest that employees use a designated driver's services or can call a cab.
  • Review sexual harassment training. Under certain circumstances, employers could be found liable for sexual harassment that occurs during an office party.

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