How to Reduce Employer Liability at Holiday Parties

Employers can avoid liability for serving alcohol at work events by taking these 8 steps.

Alcohol intake at enterprise-subsidized activities can create significant legal legal responsibility. However, businesses that host organisation vacation parties weigh the pros and cons, and lots of ultimately decide that they could consider their employees to act as experts.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 isn't a typical year. With fewer occasions being scheduled, it is in all likelihood that alcohol will no longer be a prime organization situation for a little while.

Learn about how employers can lessen their liability in terms of alcohol, harassment, and more.

Company Events within the Age of COVID-19

During COVID-19, employers were discouraged from preserving big-scale corporation events, so you can count on that many celebrations in 2021 are probably to be digital, canceled, or by no means scheduled within the first location. As extra Americans come to be vaccinated, and the weather improves, there can be instances of employers scheduling outside activities, wherein personnel can individually distance themselves.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued tips that strongly discourage gatherings. Keep in thoughts that alcohol use at any accumulating may want to decrease inhibitions and probably put greater humans at danger.

Before and After COVID-19

In an extensive 2015 survey of employers, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) determined that a majority of groups (59%) deliberate to serve alcohol at their vacation or stop-of-yr events. And simplest half of these employers (47%) stated that they might are trying to find to adjust alcohol intake. Some of the techniques used include the subsequent:

  • Providing drink tickets or a drink maximum (seventy one% of respondents)
  • Serving only certain forms of alcoholic drinks, which include beer and wine (25%)
  • Having a cash bar (18%)
  • Other (eleven%)

Companies schedule and plan vacation events with the fine of intentions. Often, parties are designed to praise their personnel, enhance morale, and encourage team spirit.

But these gatherings—specifically when alcohol is served—can grow to be an surroundings for undesirable sexual advances and probably unlawful worker conduct if the corporation is not careful.

This is mainly the case when the holiday celebration is held at an offsite region—which, in keeping with the SHRM survey, is the case in nearly sixty seven% of such capabilities. In a social setting out of doors of the place of job, an worker whose inhibitions are diminished by means of alcohol intake would possibly engage in conduct that they would probably no longer do whilst at the activity.

What Do Employers Worry About Most?

Holiday parties often carry greater than just intoxicated high jinks. Being too merry can occasionally suggest crossing the line, starting from offending a co-worker to violating the regulation. Moreover, in today’s real-time social media surroundings, drunken shenanigans at a vacation party can speedy be published online for the whole international to peer.


There are actions that employers can take prior to the holiday party: reminding employees that admire and professionalism nonetheless practice at organization-subsidized occasions, and setting up social media guidelines that limit personnel from posting photographs or films with out management permission.

There are also probably extreme criminal problems on the subject of parties that get out of hand.

Employees are blanketed from sexual harassment and discrimination through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which covers employers having 15 or more employees, such as regular part-time employees. Title VII affords two necessities for conduct to trigger capacity legal responsibility for unlawful harassment:

  • The behavior need to be unwelcome; and
  • The behavior have to be sufficiently excessive or pervasive.

Conduct isn't unlawful without a doubt due to the fact it is irrelevant or makes a co-worker sense uncomfortable. However, even a single, extraordinarily extreme incident of harassment can be sufficient to constitute a Title VII violation, mainly if the harassment is bodily.


If an workplace celebration incident follows preceding incidents of misconduct, it could represent the proof necessary to reach the “extreme” or “pervasive” threshold, ​which lays the inspiration for a Title VII declare.

A 2nd important felony legal responsibility is created by under the influence of alcohol driving following an business enterprise-backed vacation birthday party. In a 2013 case that received vast publicity, a California appellate court reversed the trial courtroom’s supply of precis judgment for the enterprise. It observed that an employee who had consumed alcohol at a company-subsidized occasion—and after leaving, struck every other automobile and killed the driving force—created legal responsibility for the organization.

“It is inappropriate that foreseeable consequences of the employee's negligent behavior (here, the car coincidence) happened at a time the worker become now not acting in the scope of his or her employment,” the court docket ruled.

Proactive Steps to Consider at the Holiday Party

Given such legal dangers, prudent employers have to take those six additional proactive steps to reduce their liability. Key examples of moves which might be encouraged for employers to do not forget include:

  • Anti-harassment guidelines: Be sure to have written anti-harassment policies in vicinity, definitely said in worker handbooks—and publicize those rules prior to the holiday party.
  • Reminders of expected behavior: Send a memo reminding employees to act responsibly on the birthday party, truely expressing a lack of tolerance for any inappropriate behavior, which includes drunkenness.
  • Workplace get dressed code: Enforce the place of work dress code on the party to keep away from any beside the point or suggestive attire, and let the personnel realize your expectations in advance.
  • Voluntary attendance: Make attendance at the celebration voluntary, and do not advocate that attendance will benefit a person’s standing within the employer.
  • Expectations round alcohol: If alcohol is served, set a tone of moderation in advance through interoffice memos, emails, meetings, or inserts into paychecks or other communications, and strain that immoderate alcohol consumption will now not be tolerated.
  • Decentralizing alcohol: Limit the range of beverages or the period of time during which alcohol can be served, and offer big non-alcoholic options. Serve masses of meals, and ensure that alcohol consumption isn't always the focal point of the event.

Such steps are not a assure in opposition to excursion celebration issues, in particular if the selection is made to serve alcohol. But they may be an employer’s basis for an powerful protection in opposition to liability if problems must rise up.