Nothing can be more fun, or put a business more at risk, than a good holiday party. Everyone knows or has heard of someone who has embarrassed himself or herself beyond belief after having a few too many drinks with co-workers. Beyond embarrassment, however, there are real liability risks. A surprising number of sexual harassment lawsuits have arisen out of conduct at company social functions. And, a recent study indicated that nearly one in four people are unaware that a party host who serves alcohol to a clearly drunk guest may be legally responsible if that person goes on to hurt or kill someone in a car accident.
If you are planning on serving alcohol at your business or office party, here are some planning ideas that can minimize your liability risk.
Voice your concerns. Let your employees know before hand that you want everyone to have a great time and that you are worried about their safety. Get everyone thinking about being safe. Let everyone know that you will be happy to get them home if they don’t think that they should drive.
Find a creative venue. Consider planning your party around an activity or event at which drinking is not the primary focus. For example, set up a miniature golf course in your warehouse and create a little competition, or rent out an ice rink for skating. When guests have things to do, they are less likely to overindulge.
Hire a bartender. Don’t leave bottles of liquor on the table and tell employees to help themselves. Instead, hire a bartender. A good professional bartender can control the amount of alcohol in the drinks, monitor your guests’ intake, and help you keep an eye on any risky situations.
Have the right food. Foods that are salty, greasy, or sweet tend to make people thirsty. Avoid these foods in favor of foods that are high in starch and protein, such as sandwiches, which stay in the stomach longer and slow the absorption of alcohol.
Arrange transportation. Have a plan for getting people home after the party if they are unable to drive. Many employers arrange for taxicabs at their expense for employees that have too much to drink. If your party is not too large, a better idea might be simply to arrange to have everyone picked up for the party and dropped off at home.
Close the bar early. Stop serving alcohol before the party officially ends. Many party planners recommend putting out desserts and coffee about an hour before the end of the party.
With good planning, you can make your party safe without ruining the fun.
Michael P. Coyne is a founding partner of the law firm Waldheger Coyne, located in Cleveland, OH. For more information of the firm, visit: www.healthlaw.com or call 440.835.0600.
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