A Time for Good Cheer – and Safe Practices

December 14, 2007

During the holiday season, many companies organize parties for their employees. The idea is for everyone to socialize, celebrate the year’s successes and have a good time. However, employers need to keep safety in mind while spreading holiday cheer.

Serving alcohol at workplace parties may be commonplace, however the results can be disastrous if employees over-indulge and decide to drive. Many employers may not be aware that under host alcohol liability laws in most states, employers can be held liable for what happens long after a party is over and their employees have left.

To make your season’s greeting stand out, offer some tips to help your business customers keep their company holiday celebrations safe and claim-free.

Deciding not to serve alcohol at the company holiday party is one solution – but not one that is universally embraced. According to a 2006 survey of 110 top U.S. companies by Battalia Winston International, 94 percent organize office parties during the holiday season – and 86 percent of them serve alcohol. Additionally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there is an alcohol-related traffic fatality every 29 minutes in the U.S.

In fact, more than 35 states have laws that hold social hosts liable when their guests cause an accident because their driving was impaired due to alcohol use. So, if your customers decide that there will be alcohol available at their company party, the following tips may help them to be a more responsible host this holiday season:

* Pre-party – Do not send the wrong signals with your choice of invitations. Prominently displaying cocktail glasses or beverages on invitations may tell people that the event is mostly centered on drinking. This could be damaging if a lawsuit results from drunken driving. Focus on socializing and showing appreciation, and downplay the opportunity for drinking alcoholic-based beverages.

* Food and beverages – Serve food with a high protein or starch content to slow alcohol absorption. Avoid salty snacks that tend to make guests drink more. Do not allow guests to mix their own drinks, and do not serve punch that obscures the amount of alcohol that is being consumed. Consider giving employees one or two free drink tickets. Requiring them to buy additional drinks may slow consumption. Employers also could consider serving a signature non-alcoholic drink in a festive glass.

* Training – Ensure bartenders are professionally-trained in responsible alcohol service. Be sure that your bartender is adequately instructed to observe guests for signs of intoxication and refuse service to anyone who has had too much to drink.

* Traffic flow – Arrange the traffic flow so that guests walk past the food first as they enter the party. Place the bar in a location that is less accessible. Include several other beverage areas or self-serve beverage areas that only offer non-alcoholic drinks.

* Timing – Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the end of the event. Schedule a program or speaker at that time, which will entice people to stay rather than immediately drive home. Do not have a “last call” for drinks.

* Post-party/Transportation – Remind employees and guests to be moderate in their behavior and alcohol consumption and offer them alternative transportation, if needed.

The end of the year is a great time for employees to get together and celebrate the year’s accomplishments. Spread the word to your customers as your gift for the season that by taking some simple steps to keep celebrations safe, everyone can enjoy each other’s company next year.

Nirmal A. Traeger is the director of casualty services for Travelers Risk Control. Bruce Lunning is a senior risk control specialist, general liability and product safety, for Travelers.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.