So you’ve decided to throw a company event, eh? Super! Now let’s make sure it all runs smoothly, shall we? After finding the location, and choosing the menu, probably the biggest decision you will make is whether or not to serve alcohol.
Unfortunately, employers can expose themselves to liability when they serve and condone excessive drinking during company-sponsored events. If employees who have been drinking get in accidents, harm someone or themselves or engage in harassing behavior, the employer could potentially be on the hook. Not good….for anybody.
Because of the risks inherent involved in alcohol consumption at company-sponsored events, employers should take into account these best practices:
- Talk about your company culture with employees emphasizing that drinking to excess is unacceptable during company events. Include alcohol usage guidance in your company code of conduct/handbook policies. It is never okay for employees and applicants to drink alcohol during a job interview. Drinking at lunch job interviews should also be discouraged. And, if you’re considering drinking with a client or customer, drink only if the client is drinking, and the recommended limit in a client or customer meeting is one glass of wine or a beer.
- Always serve food, such as appetizers, from the start of the event, so employees are not drinking on an empty stomach. Heavy appetizers minimize the effects of alcohol consumption. In addition, food gets people chatting. Employees that might otherwise not have much in common can easily bond over talking recipes and hosting ideas.
- Provide a late night snack buffet before employees hit the road to end a company event. It doesn’t have to be elaborate: tacos, sloppy joes, hot dogs, popcorn, cold cuts, cheese and crackers, pizza, coffee, and soft drinks provide a focus for employees other than alcoholic beverages.
- Offer a variety of interesting, non-alcoholic beverages, to remove the emphasis from alcohol. Never make drinking, or eating, for that matter, the main focus of any event. Any common drink can be made non-alcoholic, so make sure that’s on the bartender’s list, too.
- Consider serving just beer and wine, and no liquor. Avoid serving drinks such as fruit punch that limit an employee’s ability to assess how much alcohol they are drinking.
- Limit the number of drinks the company provides by using drink tickets or another informal method of tracking the amount of alcohol served. If you want to limit alcohol consumption, consider stamping an employee’s hand in exchange for each drink; you will want to limit the number of stamps an employee can receive.
- Limit the number of hours that the bar is open. Close the bar during dinner and at a reasonable time to signal the drawing to a close and ending of the event. You might also consider holding the event directly after work so employees party from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. for example.
- Use trained bartenders to serve alcohol; never allow employees to serve coworkers or themselves. You should not provide a help-yourself beverage bar that includes alcohol. Make sure your bartenders are clear that they are not to serve alcohol to any person who appears to be inebriated. They are also not allowed to serve alcohol to any person who appears to be under the legal drinking age.
- Pay for the event, the food, non-alcoholic drinks, and entertainment, but best practice to provide a cash bar for employees. When employees have to purchase their own drinks, they drink less.
- Recruit HR, your managers, and event planning committee members, in advance, to keep their eyes open for employees who may be overindulging. Offer the employee a ride home, call a cab, or make certain that a designated non-drinking driver takes the wheel.
- Pay for cabs to sit outside your event in case an employee is advised or decides that he or she cannot drive safely. Or, schedule the event at a location that offers easy access to public transportation. Offering to reimburse for Uber is another modern option.
- Take a look at your company insurances to determine whether you have the appropriate coverage that allows you to serve alcohol at company events. Many general liability policies cover host liquor liability, but if they don’t, and the company doesn’t regularly serve alcohol, the coverage is usually inexpensive to purchase separately. If caterers are working at the event, may be a good idea to ask them to give the company additional insured status so that the caterer’s policy will help protect against lawsuits.
- You may also want to consider asking employees to review and sign a document that provides company alcoholic beverage guidelines, and that informs employees they are liable for their behavior at company-sponsored events.
Alcohol can be a festive addition to a company event, but employee guidelines, company culture and customs, appropriate planning, and observation at the event will ensure that employees live to work another day. At company events, as in your workplace, employee safety is your paramount concern.