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Alcohol - Why It Takes Away Holiday Party Cheer

Fewer employers are planning holiday parties. About 79 percent are planning parties this year, which is down from 81 percent in 2009. However, this year more employers plan to serve alcohol at their parties. Eighty percent will serve alcohol compared to 73 percent last year according to an Amrop Battalia Winston survey.

Experts say the keys to making attendance at work parties career-enhancing rather than career-killing include: don't drink too much; don't overdress; don't get personal; don't bring the date-gone-wild; and don't complain about work.

Twenty percent of people surveyed have had too much to drink at a work party and 14 percent know someone who was fired for behavior at a holiday party. Inappropriate flirting with a colleague or saying something regretful about a boss or coworker are common examples.

One important point to remember for employers and employees alike is to prevent employees who are  drunk from driving. Have a plan to provide taxis for those who may drink too much.

One expert offers tips for resisting the temptation of too many office-party cocktails. He suggests that employees determine a set time to leave the party before they arrive and then stick to it. Another tip is to make a pact of abstinence with a trusted colleague. Finally, he recommends that employees challenge themselves to meet and spend at least five minutes with 10 colleagues they don't know well. Eve Thamincioglu, "Lampshade Alert: Surviving the Company Party" (Nov. 29, 2010).

Commentary and Checklist

Employers must understand that parties, especially parties where alcohol is served, create exposure unless they are managed correctly.

Alcohol abuse exposes employers to liability at employer-sponsored parties in several ways. Injuries from alcohol-related car accidents create one exposure. Another risk emerges when inebriated employees turn their romantic attention to their coworkers. The result may be an embarrassing scene at the party or later a claim for sexual harassment.

Workplace laws on sexual harassment, workers' compensation and discrimination apply at employer-sponsored functions, such as holiday parties. Dram shop laws may apply for employers that serve alcohol in addition to tort and negligence exposure. Make certain that managers and employees know before the party that behavior that is unacceptable in the office is also unacceptable at office parties. The next loss prevention step is to eliminate alcohol or, at least, limit alcohol consumption during work holiday parties.

Here are some additional tips to avoid liability from holiday work parties:
  • Make employees aware that the office party is an employer-sponsored event and that adherence to workplace policies, like the sexual harassment policy, is expected.
  • Post your organization's substance abuse policy (bulletin board, email, etc.) prior to the party.
  • If you plan to serve alcohol, limit intake by giving out tickets to employees and stop serving alcohol early on during the party.
  • Structure the office party around an activity or theme that gives employees something to do other than stand around and drink.
  • Make sure there are a large variety of non-alcoholic beverages offered.
  • Serve foods with starch and protein versus salty and sweet fare. These foods tend to make people less thirsty and also tend to slow the absorption of alcohol.
  • Anticipate the need for alternative transportation and have options available to those who have been drinking.
  • Watch participants. It's okay to tell someone that they have had enough to drink for the night.
  • As a manager, supervisor or employee, try to enjoy yourself at work holiday parties but stay professional.

This informational piece is part of "The Loss Prevention Journal" published on December 15, 2010

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