How to Serve Alcohol at a Company Party Without Getting Sued

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With the holidays right around the corner, many businesses will host festive company outings and events for their employees, including parties at the office—and often these celebrations include alcohol.

Employers need to understand the legal parameters of having alcohol in the workplace in order to establish a safe, responsible and enjoyable work environment for their employees. A few common questions from employers at this time of year are:

Are there any legal restrictions on serving alcohol at company functions?

Some states have laws that govern “social host liability.”  Through these laws, bartenders or social hosts can be held liable for events that result from over-serving someone (e.g. accidents, injuries, etc.).  These laws would make the organization responsible for monitoring consumption and cutting off drinking by anyone who becomes intoxicated, so be aware of the laws in your jurisdiction.

If some of our employees are under the legal drinking age, can we still serve alcohol?

Employers must ensure that no one underage has access to alcohol. If alcohol is served to a minor, the employer can be subject to the same stiff fines and penalties that a store or bar that serves a minor would face.  Accordingly, if underage employees will be attending the party, employers must be vigilant in making sure that they are not served or allowed access to alcoholic beverages.

If an employee has too much to drink and has an accident, it is still covered by our insurance, right?

Employers who provide alcohol to their employees may unwittingly negate coverage under their general liability insurance policies and be on the hook for costs associated with alcohol-related incidents or injuries, so be aware of the limitations and exceptions applicable to your organization’s employee-related policies.

Any other legal risks the organization might face if alcohol will be served at holiday functions?

There is an increased risk of sexual harassment-related complaints that result from company events where alcohol is present (e.g. the stereotypical office holiday party that is always satirized in movies and TV shows).  Remember that even though the function might be held outside normal working hours, employees are still afforded protection from harassment or other inappropriate conduct that might be directed at them by their colleagues.

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