Tips for Employers About Serving Alcohol at Company Events

Be prepared and responsible if you're hosting a party with alcohol

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What an Employer Must Consider

Do you provide alcohol: beer, wine, or spirits, for employees to drink at work-related events? If so, you’ve probably spent time thinking about whether this is a good practice. You want your employees to enjoy their work-related events and parties, but you also want to keep your employees safe. In fact, their safety is your priority.

These are some of the considerations you need to think about when you plan to serve alcohol at company events.

Be Responsible

You need to minimize the legal liability of your organization yet not let legal worries dictate your relationship with your employees.

A holiday party is not the only event where an employee may face the question of deciding whether to drink or not at business events; employers plan all sorts of events that serve alcohol. The bottom line is making a decision about what and how much before arriving at the party. 

Whether your event is a company milestone or birthday, an employee's retirement party, or a holiday event, use these tips to plan an alcohol safe event.

Emphasize Your Company Culture

Talk about your company culture with employees before the event takes place. You need to emphasize that drinking to excess is unacceptable during company events. Include alcohol usage guidance in your company code of conduct.

For instance, it should never be okay for employees and applicants to drink alcohol during a job interview. Drinking at lunch job interviews should also be discouraged. You need to assess the applicant's fit with your organization without the influence of alcohol. And, if you're considering drinking with a client or customer, drink only if the client or customer orders an alcoholic drink. (The recommended limit in a client or customer meeting is one glass of wine or a beer.)

Don't Make Alcohol the Focus of Work Events

  • Offer a variety of interesting, non-alcoholic beverages, to remove the emphasis from alcohol. And never make drinking, or eating, for that matter, the main focus of any event. Always make entertainment, speeches, presentations, company logo items to purchase with points earned, games, dancing and/or activities for employees to participate in, the main focus of any company team building events.
  • Consider serving just beer and wine, and no liquor. Avoid serving drinks such as fruit punch that limit an employee’s ability to assess how much alcohol they are drinking.

Put Restrictions on How Much Alcohol Is Available

  • Limit the number of drinks the company provides by using drink tickets or another informal method of tracking the amount of alcohol that employees are served. If you want to limit alcohol consumption, consider stamping an employee’s hand in exchange for each drink; you will want to limit the number of stamps an employee can receive.
  • Limit the number of hours that the bar is open. Close the bar during dinner and at a reasonable time to signal the drawing to a close and ending of the event. You might also consider holding the event directly after work so employees party from 5 p.m. - 9 p.m. for example.
  • Use trained bartenders to serve alcohol; never allow employees to serve coworkers or themselves. Never provide a help-yourself beverage bar that includes alcohol.
  • Make sure your bartenders are clear that they are not to serve alcohol to any person who appears to be inebriated. Bartenders must card these employees just as if they were attempting to order booze in a local tavern.
  • Pay for the event, the food, non-alcoholic drinks, and entertainment, but provide a cash bar for employees. When employees have to purchase their own drinks, they drink less.

Hold Alcohol-Free Work Events

  • Nix alcohol except for beer and wine at company events that include children. For example, one company stopped serving liquor at work events that included families when several irresponsible employees started drinking shots in front of other employees' children. It was the last straw.
  • Provide a late-night snack buffet before employees hit the road to end a company event. It doesn’t have to be elaborate: tacos, sloppy joes, hot dogs, popcorn, cold cuts, cheese and crackers, coffee, and soft drinks provide a focus for employees other than alcoholic beverages.

Prepare for (Some) Overindulgence by Employees

  • Recruit your managers and event planning committee members, in advance, to keep their eyes open for employees who may be overindulging. Offer the employee a ride home, call a cab, or make certain that a designated non-drinking driver takes the wheel.
  • Pay for cabs to sit outside your event in case an employee is advised or decides that he or she cannot drive safely. Or schedule the event at a location that offers easy access to public transportation.

Make Sure You're Covered Legally

  • Take a look at your company insurances to determine whether you have the appropriate coverage that allows you to serve alcohol at company events
  • You may also want to consider asking employees to review and sign a document that provides company alcoholic beverage guidelines, and that informs employees they are liable for their behavior at company-sponsored events.
  • Make the document clear that employees can expect punishment for over-imbibing or poor interpersonal behavior up to and including employment termination. You can do this as employees RSVP for the work event.

The Bottom Line

Alcohol can be a festive addition to a company event, but at company events, as in your workplace, employee safety is your top concern. So, heed these tips about limiting the opportunity for employees to behave in unsafe ways.