Booze At the Office Holiday Party?

How many times have you been to a company holiday party with an open bar where the booze is flowing and everyone’s getting loose? As the night progresses you begin to see that one co-worker of yours getting sloppy and progressively more sloshed? The words start to slur and the volume picks up as the inhibitions fall. Maybe it was you? Heck, maybe it was everyone there. Who knows what can happen from there!

An office holiday party can be a nice way to mark the season and to share a little warmth and appreciation with co-workers, but they can also be danger zones where inappropriate behavior could lead to highly unforeseen consequences. Employers want to share their appreciation for their employees and allow them to have a little fun, but serving alcohol at the office holiday party can be a huge source of potential disaster.

Some people interpret office parties as an invitation to let their guard down in ways that are a liability to the company.  It is no big revelation that infusing a holiday party with alcohol can lead to lowered inhibitions and poor judgment. Even a well-meaning and otherwise mild-mannered employee might throw out an inappropriate joke or comment after a few drinks. And even if the party itself ends without incident, employers can still be liable for any harm caused by an intoxicated employee on his or her way home.

Alcohol consumption just might be the most sensitive issue an employer must consider when planning an office holiday party. Sure, employers can always opt to have a nonalcoholic gathering (party like it’s prohibition) which would significantly reduce the likelihood of booze-induced problems, but this might be a little extreme to some. Short of complete ban of alcohol, employers might want to consider some of the following options, and implement measures specific to the makeup of their workforce:

  • Have an all-cash bar, and staff it with a professional bartender.
  • Cut off the free flow of alcohol well before the party ends.
  • Provide employees with a specific number of drink tickets redeemable at the bar.
  • Restrict the type of alcohol available, either none or only beer and wine
  • Provide plenty of food to balance the effect of a couple drinks.
  • Provide for company-paid taxis to ensure a safe trip home for any employees who drink at the holiday party.
  • Collect car keys from employees who drink.
  • Offer door prizes to employees who volunteer as designated drivers.
  • Station a high-level management employee at the exit to wish everyone goodnight, while monitoring for tipsy party-goers.
  • Hold the party at a location that discourages driving, such as a hotel
  • Invite deterrents. Sometimes the presence of a spouse or significant other can help employees keep their behavior and their drinking under control.
  • Holiday party hosts should be on the lookout for any revelers who have overindulged and take whatever steps are appropriate, including ensuring that no further alcohol is consumed by such employees and arranging for transportation.

Maybe you have other ideas that are just as effective. Whatever it might be, even if you take every measure in the book to curb liability, there is no guarantee that nothing problematic will happen. I’m not saying to let your worries get the best of you to the point you can’t enjoy your own party, but don’t turn your head and look the other way if a dicey situation arises. Who knows what can happen when you throw booze into the equation. It’s better to be safe than sorry!


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About Jimmy Kinmartin - Business Insurance & Risk Management Broker

Jimmy is a California licensed Property & Casualty AND Accident & Health insurance agent working at the ISU - Olson Duncan Insurance brokerage in Torrance, CA. He grew up in Fullerton, CA and graduated from Servite High School in Anaheim and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and currently lives in Tustin, CA. Have questions? Just ask! Or, follow Jim on Twitter at @JimKinmartin

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