Corporate Holiday Party: What HR Managers Need To Know

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Corporate-holiday-parties-celebrate-responsiblyTime to be Mindful and Celebrate Responsibly

As a Human Resources Manager for more than 20 years with small and large companies alike, I would to like share with you my experience with company holiday parties.  Lessons learned and tips gained can assist in guiding you to create a safe and happy holiday celebration for all.  In my experience, most holiday party misconduct happens when alcohol is served at the party.

A 2012 Society for Human Resource Management employer survey found that a majority of organizations (61 percent) planned to serve alcohol at their holiday or end-of-year company parties.

Some suggestions to consider:

  • Do not require attendance at the company party.
  • Consider hosting the party offsite at a professionally managed facility with trained bar staff who are familiar with the legalities of alcohol consumption for your state.  Ask the facility about its policies on alcohol before booking the event.
  • Remind employees that normal company rules of conduct apply to parties as well as a normal workday and that they should drink responsibly.  You can refer them to your employee handbook for more details.
  • Arrange for designated drivers or make an arrangement with a local hotel (with shuttle service) to offer discounted room rates to all employees.
  • If you are providing alcoholic drinks, consider using drink tickets.  Limit the number of tickets given to each person who attends, and keep the ones who state they will not drink, so the tickets do not go to other attendees.
  • Shut down the bar at least one hour before the celebration concludes and set a solid timeframe for the festivities.
  • Provide nonalcoholic beverages such as iced tea, water or soft drinks.
  • It is not recommended to serve punch or other fruity mixed drinks that disguise the taste of alcohol.
  • Provide food and entertainment to prevent drinking from being the focus of the party.
  • Don’t allow employees to tend bar or provide alcohol themselves, be sure to hire a trained professional (no BYOB).
  • Designate a responsible person to monitor the party and work with the event staff at the location the day/night of the party.
  • Consider scheduling the party on a weeknight, when employees are less likely to binge.
  • Ah, the mistletoe – not a good idea.  Do not hang mistletoe as a decoration.  This could lead to all sorts of harassment issues and potential complaints.
  • Make sure underage employees or guests are not served alcohol, or simply limit who can be invited to the party (for example, no underage children), because alcohol will be served.
  • Consult your insurance broker regarding your business policies for alcohol-related exclusions.

Knowing your liabilities before planning an event can keep both you and the company safer this holiday season. Questions? Contact the author directly

Want more reading on this topic?  Check out the California appellate court’s widely publicized 2013 decision in Purton v. Marriott International where at the annual holiday party for employees, San Diego Marriott served only beer and wine and limited drink tickets for each worker. A hotel bartender arrived with a flask of whiskey, which a supervisor refilled with hotel liquor after the employees drank all the whiskey. While driving home, the employee with the flask struck another vehicle and killed the driver and was sentenced to six years in prison.

After the deceased’s family sued Marriott, the appeals court held that the proximate cause of the death—the worker’s intoxication—happened while the employee was at the party. Because the party benefited the hotel and was a Marriott custom, drinking at the party was within the scope of employment, and Marriott could be held liable for the employee’s actions.