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Merry ChristmasBy: Douglas J. Miller

As another year draws close to an end, we hope that all of you have much to celebrate. We are often asked during the holiday season about the potential risks of having holiday parties, and, as you can imagine, the conversation often finds its way to the issue of alcohol. 

Since many companies understandably want to recognize, thank, and celebrate with their employees during this time of year, we created a checklist of some of the issues which should be considered when planning a holiday party:

  • Determine whether serving alcohol is necessary and appropriate for your workforce and party.
  • Remind employees that your holiday celebration is a "work" party, normal work rules apply (e.g., non-harassment, dress code, and employee conduct), and any policy violations may result in disciplinary action. A possible way to stress these points would be to include the message about expected behavior in any pre-party email reminders. 
  • Do not make attendance mandatory, as this may create liability and/or wage and hour issues. Your employees' presence should be welcomed, but voluntary. 
  • Serve an appropriate amount of food to help counter-balance the impact of any alcoholic drinks and consider serving only beer and wine to your guests. Also be sure to have plenty of non-alcoholic beverage options available.
  • If possible, invite spouses and significant others to the party, as this may help influence employee behavior and ensure everyone gets home safely.
  • Close the bar after a reasonable amount of time and provide transportation to take impaired employees home.
  • Have your party at a hotel (or near a hotel) and, at management's discretion, provide rooms for anyone who may not be able to get home safely.
  • Review your insurance (workers' compensation and other policies) to determine liability exposure for employees and third parties and for alcohol exclusions.
  • Respect religious views - make sure the party is a holiday, seasonal, or year-end party. It should not be associated with a particular religion, which will help minimize the risk of religious discrimination claims.
  • At the end of the party, identify any issues or problems and address them immediately.

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