Folks here in Louisiana know a thing or two about throwing a good party. This is of course a point of pride in the community, but businesses need to start thinking about legal issues. Providing alcohol at business events like a holiday office party can open up the owners to a range of liability issues.
The rule of thumb in the era of the #MeToo movement is that acceptable behavior at work events is the same as it would be in the office. Victims of an employee assault or victims injured or killed due to an over-served employee driving home can leave the company liable for damages.
These concerns, however, need to be weighed against the impact on employee moral if a standing tradition is cancelled. Even a sober-only event could imply that management does not trust its staff and managers to behave as civilized adults. According the Associated Press, businesses are considering these issues and reevaluating their holiday party options.
Keep the party, but be careful
There are several options for putting together an event that will be enjoyable and safe for all. These include:
Choose an activity driven event: Rather than making alcohol the activity, try booking a bowling alley, escape room or arcade. Another option is to provide some sort of entertainment that encourages engagement instead of background noise.
Use drink tickets: This enables someone besides the bartender to monitor the alcohol intake of employees. Also, be judicious about what the tickets can be used for.
Serve wine and beer: Following up on this last point, wine and beer can cause intoxication, but it takes time and offers chances for people to notice and address the matter.
Set a time limit: After work until early evening enables folks to get home early or move on to other events.
Also, serve food and non-alcoholic beverages: This is hospitality 101, but some business owners may not be used to throwing parties.
It is a new era, so plan accordingly
It also does not hurt when sending out the invite to include language about acceptable behavior at this work-sanctioned event, particularly if the employee handbook has been updated to address appropriate behavior in the workplace. Some may laugh at the reminder, but being accused of trying to make an event enjoyable and safe for all is criticism that any employer should be happy to get.