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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

What's in this punch?

NOTE: This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated with new information. 

The holiday season is upon us. Many employers are planning office parties or allowing employees to plan parties. You’ve heard the stories of bars being liable for their patrons after they leave the establishment or parents who have allowed parties to take place at their homes. These same liabilities are being applied to employers who serve alcohol at office parties.

Party on!

A 2015 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM) found that approximately 59 percent of companies having holiday parties plan to serve alcohol. Less than half of those plan on regulating alcohol consumption by employees. While the parties can serve as an employee reward, team building, or morale booster when alcohol is involved they can also set the scene for inappropriate behavior and/or injuries. The aftermath of which employers have to deal with or could be held liable.

Many employers seek to hold the functions at offsite locations to further enhance or show commitment to the employee event. The location doesn't release the employer of liability and may sometimes encourage inappropriate behavior by employees as the offsite location and alcohol consumption lower inhibitions.

In the most notable case to date, a California Appellate court ruled in August of 2013 that an employer was liable when an employee caused a fatal accident after becoming intoxicated at the employer sponsored party. The ruling was based on vicarious liability and the employer’s responsibility for their employee’s actions. Not all courts may rule the same in all situations, but the precedent has been set.

Why take the chance with your livelihood?

The possibility of legal action should not dampen the festivities or cause employers to cancel parties. Employers have to be aware of the issues and plan accordingly. A little preparation and foresight now may save a lot of money and heartache later.


When planning the party, consider the need to serve alcohol. If alcohol is served manage the consumption by setting limits. Do not pay for alcohol at offsite locations. Arrange alternative transportation for those who do consume.

Review company policies, update as needed, and publish. Ensure employees are aware and reminded of policies regarding alcohol consumption, harassment, and behavior. Make sure social media policies are up to date and include information about the posting of photographs/videos and are sensitive to privacy concerns.

Every effort you make will help later if you were to be sued.




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