10 ways to limit holiday party liquor liability

The holiday season is upon us, and if you’re planning a company party or awards banquet, you might want to give some thought to your policy on alcohol.

Serving employees alcohol at company-sponsored parties and events can have serious and sometimes tragic consequences for your workers and your organization.

For example, if an employee drinks too much and gets into an accident on the way home, you could be held liable. Plus, sexual harassment complaints tend to increase when alcohol consumption goes up.

Here are some suggestions to help prevent alcohol-related problems—including sexual harassment and auto accidents—and limit your exposure to liability if you do decide to serve liquor:

  1. Don’t serve liquor. The simple solution to the problem is not to serve alcohol at all—though this may not be realistic.
  2. Limit consumption. You may be able to limit the amount people drink by having a cash bar or by providing tickets good for only two or three drinks. Also, stay away from sweet punches containing alcohol. These can make it difficult for people to tell how much alcohol they have consumed—until it’s too late.
  3. Close the bar early. One to two hours before the end of the event, stop serving alcohol. If possible, continue serving food even after the bar is closed.
  4. Have the party off-site. If the party takes place at a hotel or restaurant with a liquor license—and the facility’s employees serve the drinks—you’re less likely to be held responsible.
  5. Establish an alcohol policy. Institute a company policy to let your employees know that excessive drinking at company functions will not be tolerated. Also remind workers about the dangers of drinking and driving.
  6. Offer transportation. Make taxi vouchers available to provide the option of cab rides at company expense.
  7. Avoid company business. To help make the event a social affair, keep any discussion of business to a minimum and hold the party outside of regular business hours.
  8. Make company functions voluntary. It’s a good idea to make attendance at company parties where liquor is consumed entirely voluntary.
  9. Invite families. Inviting spouses and dates tends to make the event more of a social occasion rather than a business function.
  10. Don’t invite customers, clients, or business associates. Inviting the people your company does business with increases the likelihood that the event is an official company function.
  11. Watch for minors. The law can come down hard on you if you allow minors to drink alcohol. If a significant number of your employees are minors, or if you expect families to attend (e.g., the event is a company picnic), consider serving no alcohol at all.

Although it’s impossible to exercise absolute control over your employees, the key to avoiding liability, as well as keeping workers safe and out of legal trouble, is to do everything you can to prevent them from drinking too much and getting behind the wheel.

Are rules and regulations around alcohol going to make a difference?

By Penny Ferguson

As an HR director or business leader, are you drawing any parallels between the Government’s approach to dealing with the problems of binge drinking and the way our organizations attempt to create behavioral change?

This may sound like a strange question, but for me there are so many things that resonate, and my question is this: are rules and regulations the most effective way to change the way people behave?

The Government obviously believes so. Binge drinking is, without question, a serious and growing problem, but Government is only dealing with the symptoms, not the cause. Why do individuals feel the need to go out and binge drink?

Probably because they think it's fun. How sad that we have become a nation where many people find fun in a bottle rather than more healthy pastimes. Those who passionately pursue activities and hobbies are much less likely to be among this number, perhaps because they're focused on a sense of purpose and belonging.

Just putting in numerous rules to remove from someone something they want, without their having something worthwhile to replace it with, I have never known to have any significant impact on behaviors. Usually, it just makes them devious, trying to find ways round it. You could therefore argue that you may be creating even more problems for the broader community.

Where will they get the booze from if they don't have the money to get it? If it's 'the only way to have fun', they'll surely find a way – steal either the drink or the money to buy it, maybe?

The same thing is true in our businesses. When we continually create rules and structures to stop people doing certain things or behaving in certain ways, they often invest huge amounts of time in finding ways to get around them.


However, if we focus more on helping people to see how they can really contribute and how they uniquely make a difference to their team and the organization, we may create sustainable change. We may begin to inspire people to embrace their role so they get much more from every working day, which in turn may positively impact on their performance.

Let me put this into a context. How many companies have you worked at where a communication problem was dealt with by appointing consultants? How much real change resulted? Most of the time, when people are asked that question, they respond, 'not a lot' or 'nothing at all'.

So, your problem is that individuals are not communicating and you put in a system to sort it? That won't work. If each and every individual took 100% responsibility for communicating, you wouldn't need a new system anyway.


At home, and I will admit sadly to this being very true of me for many years, you love your children very much so you keep telling them 'what to do' and what 'not to do'. Effectively, you are educating them into not thinking for themselves. You are actually teaching individuals how not to be responsible.

To change the culture of drinking, or to change any culture for that matter, necessitates something very different from putting in new systems. I believe if this is the route the Government goes, then the impact will be negligible and, within a couple of years, they'll be looking to 'upgrade' or put in a new system and the problem will have escalated.

How often have you seen systems merely create a 'fix' rather than bring about lasting change within your organization?

David Cameron talks about responsibility but, if he just keeps putting in systems to tell people how to behave differently, then to my mind he clearly doesn't understand the true meaning.

I wish, for once, the powers that be would start addressing the cause rather than the symptom. Then, and only then, will we begin to address so many of our challenges.

How are you applying this principle in your organizations?