Holiday Cheer, But No Beer?

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During this holiday season, for many employers the “holiday party” is a tradition to develop inter-personal relationships amongst colleagues and celebrate the end of the year together. In keeping with the festive mood, employers often provide ample food and drinks for everyone to enjoy. However, this year, employees might notice an absentee at their holiday party: Mr. Alcohol.

Since allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced in early October, and women and men around the globe embraced the #metoo social media movement, barely a week has gone by without news of sexual harassment and violence allegations against high-powered individuals spanning industries and politics.

It comes as no surprise that employers want to avoid finding themselves in similar headlines. A holiday party should bring lots of cheer as coworkers and families celebrate the year together. It absolutely should not be host to an employer’s worst nightmare: liability for an employee’s wayward actions. This year, employers are turning their attentions to the availability of alcohol at their holiday parties. Some employers are foregoing alcohol altogether for their upcoming holiday parties, whilst others are utilizing alcohol tickets or cash bars to limit alcohol intake. It is important to note, however, that while alcohol can loosen tongues and inhibitions, it is not the cause of inappropriate behavior and should not be used as a shield against responsibility for one’s actions. That said, alcohol tends to encourage less appropriate behavior and does pose possible social host liability issues.

For employers who are providing alcohol at their holiday parties, taking some precautionary measures can help ensure the party goes off without a hitch. Consider the following tips for your holiday party:

  • Host the party away from your work premises;
  • Hire professional bartenders who are trained to identify and address already intoxicated individuals;
  • Serve plenty of food and non-alcoholic options;
  • Provide taxi vouchers or reimbursement to ensure your employees and/or guests return home safely;
  • Stop serving alcohol at least one hour prior to the end of the party;
  • Task designated sober attendees, such as your HR office or executives, to watch over the party and look out for signs of insobriety and inappropriate behavior.

Looking beyond the holiday party and alcohol consumption, employers should have clear and enforced policies and procedures to address workplace misconduct and harassment; hold regular trainings and discussions with employees about ensuring a safe, healthy, and respectful workplace environment; and foster and prioritize a diverse, inclusive, and courteous workplace to stand at an advantage in ensuring not only a festive and safe holiday season, but a positive and productive workforce for years to come.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday!


About the Authors

Michelle Su

Michelle is an associate in the firm's banking and finance, business transactions and employment practice groups.

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