With the holidays approaching, many business owners decide to acknowledge employees with a party of sorts, as a gesture of appreciation and an opportunity to socialize together. What liability might a business owner face by sponsoring an event of this sort?
There are several aspects that need to be considered. From the standpoint of recognition, having a gathering is a nice idea. But if the balance of the year is vacant of expressions of appreciation, an annual event is not going to buy much in the way of loyalty. It should be a culmination of other ways in which you show your employees you value them.
Another issue to think about is the notion of a “Christmas” party. There are many religions other than Christian, and if you are going to address anything religious, it is important that you address other expressions as well. This can be challenging, but the best approach is to announce that you’d like the party to represent the company as a whole and involve the employees in the planning. There’s nothing wrong with having a Christmas tree, but add some references to Chanukah or Kwanzaa, if you have employees who observe them. If they do not step forward with input for the party, they have relinquished their right to complain later.
Finally, consider carefully if alcohol will be served. Aside from the expense and concern for safety, there are issues of liability and professionalism. If you choose not to serve liquor, make sure that employees know they are not to bring alcohol to the party.
To fail to plan for the possibility that some participants may over-imbibe is remiss. Not only could their professional reputation suffer if they act foolish or obnoxious, but your company can be held liable of they leave the party and cause an accident. If you decide to serve alcohol, there is no sure way to avoid liability and to keep your employees safe.
It is important that you have a workplace substance abuse policy that has been adequately communicated. Review it in the weeks prior to the party, via bulletin board listings, paycheck stuffers, or office e-mail. Make it clear that drunkenness is prohibited, and that professional and responsible behavior is not just expected, but required. Make sure there are lots of interesting non-alcoholic choices available, maybe an espresso bar, or a variety of juices.
You can issue drink tickets to employees, thereby limiting their intake, but that doesn’t preclude people from giving their unused tickets to someone else. Whoever is serving should be vigilant and watch for signs of tipsiness or too frequent visitors to the bar. Remind managers that they have responsibility for maintaining the company’s drug and alcohol policy. They should be mingling anyway, and keeping an eye out for any potential problems.
Make sure there is lots to eat, especially starchy or protein-based choices that slow the absorption of alcohol. Avoid greasy or salty foods that tend to make people thirsty. Stop serving alcohol an hour before the party ends, but leave some food and coffee out.
Provide alternative transportation, whether that is a company van with a designated driver, or company-paid cab rides. Talk this up in advance, and emphasize that this is a responsible choice, not a silly one. Encourage anyone who may have had too much to drink to take advantage of these free – and safe – alternatives.
Anne Caldwell is President and Founder of Outsourcing Solutions, a human resource strategy firm that works with small companies, start-ups and organizations in transition. Outsourcing Solutions can be reached at (602) 228-9191, www.azoutsource.com or firstname.lastname@example.org