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The Company Holiday Party and Alcohol

Question:

We’re in the process of planning our company holiday party. We’ve got differing opinions on whether we should host a party and if alcohol should be served.  As we plan our party, what should we consider?

Answer:

The holidays tend to be a busy and high stress time for many people both personally and professionally. Company holiday parties can be a great way to bring your employees together to destress, socialize, and bond with one another. Although we welcome the opportunity to put our work responsibilities to the side and seize the moment to have some fun, we cannot put aside professionalism. Before you embrace the holiday spirit and host your company’s annual party, here are a few tips to ensure that everyone has a good time that doesn’t put the company at risk.

Emphasize company values and policies prior to the party

The goal of the holiday party is often to relieve stress and build/strengthen relationships within the company. Just because this is a party does not mean that the company’s values and policies are put aside. Be sure to remind employees of your company policies and standards for expected behavior, and make it clear that these will also apply at the event. Setting the expectation of professionalism from the beginning will help to avoid any potential confusion of what is acceptable in the party setting.

Determine if alcohol will be offered

Company leaders will need to determine if the company holiday party is the right environment for alcohol. There are multiple factors to consider including the age range of your workforce, how the timing of the party fits with employees’ work schedules, past history, and location of the party. Companies with employees under 21 will need to assess how they will handle this potential liability. Companies that may have employees attending the party before their shift will also need to address this issue.

Ways to reduce risk if alcohol is served

If you choose to include alcohol at the party, there are many ways that you can control access and reduce the risk of over indulgence.  Some things to consider include:

  • Limit alcohol options: There is no need to offer an open bar that includes hard liquor. It is perfectly acceptable to limit the alcohol options to beer and wine.
  • Limit access/consumption: Provide a limited number of drink tickets (perhaps a max of 2) for alcoholic drinks to each attendee. Taking drink tickets should also be optional. If a person knows they are not interested in alcohol, there’s no need for them to take their tickets.
  • Drinks served by professionals: It is highly recommended to hire licensed and insured servers/bartenders to serve the party drinks. They can ensure that your guests are provided appropriate amounts, and they are trained on how to handle alcohol-related situations if they would arise.
  • Offer non-alcoholic drinks: Be sure to offer water and other non-alcoholic drink options.
  • Food is a must-have: Providing good food is an important component to any party, but it is essential at a party where alcohol is served. Hearty appetizers, if not a full meal, can help to absorb the alcohol that your attendees consume.
  • Be prepared to get everyone home safely: Before the day of the party, encourage everyone to have a plan for how to get home safely whether that is through a carpool, designated drivers, ride sharing programs, taxi/uber, or company-provided transportation.

For additional suggestions to limit your liability, check out these party planning recommendations from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Re-evaluate party plans each year

We recommend that you evaluate the success of your holiday party each year to determine if it is serving the purpose that you intended. There are many ways to build comradery among your employees, so be sure to ask them for how they would like to be rewarded. Some companies have chosen to do community service projects or host family-friendly events to celebrate their employees and their families.

We hope that you and your employees have a wonderful and safe time at your company party!

Communicating with your workforce can be difficult – factor in multiple shifts, various locations, off-site employees and a multi-generational workforce and you quickly learn that providing adequate communication to everyone you employ or want to employ isn’t so easy. strategic HR inc. has years of experience formulating communications for a variety of situations. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with your tough communication problems.