Around this time of year your company's holiday party planning is in full swing. One question employers confront around this time of year is whether to serve alcoholic beverages at the holiday party. Who doesn't like a little spiked egg nog? Of course, the law does not prohibit employers from serving alcohol at company parties. Without intending to become a Debbie Downer on anyone's Yuletide cheer, this post reminds employers of some of the risks associated with serving alcohol at work events and the best practices to minimize those risks.
The reality is that employers can be liable for employees' drunk driving after holiday parties. In one case a few years back an employer was held liable for an employee's drunk driving even though the employee returned home safely immediately after the party. Unfortunately, the employee went out again later while still intoxicated and killed someone in a high-speed crash. Because the alcohol consumption occurred during the work event, the employer was held liable. As the court explained, "an employer may be found liable for its employee's torts as long as the proximate cause of the injury occurred within the scope of employment. It is irrelevant that foreseeable effects of the employee's negligent conduct occurred at a time the employee was no longer acting within the scope of his or her employment." In other words, the intoxication that occurred at the company-sponsored event ultimately resulted in the victim's death and the employer could be held liable. Holiday parties (regardless of the location or time) can be considered within the scope of employment because they benefit the employer by "improving employee morale and furthering employer-employee relations."
If an employer decides to serve alcohol at the company party, some steps that can be taken to minimize the risks include: limiting alcoholic beverages to beer and wine and refraining from serving hard alcohol; implementing a drink ticket system; cutting off service of drinks before dinner; or otherwise monitoring employees' alcohol consumption at the party. Employers also offer free shuttle rides home or arrange for Uber or Lyft vouchers.
So if you plan to raise a toast at your upcoming company holiday party, reduce your stress by taking steps to ensure that employees enjoy responsibly. Cheers!