Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Should an employer pay for alcohol at the holiday party?

This can be a difficult decision for many employers. Most employees will not take advantage of the situation and will not consume an excessive amount of alcohol at such a gathering. Unfortunately, that one employee that does drink an excessive amount and begins to get out of hand could prove to be more of a burden to the employer than to the employee. If the employee ends up hurting someone by getting into a fight or getting behind the wheel of a car, the employer can be held responsible for supplying the alcohol.

A company needs to make the decision to serve alcohol based on weighing the risks involved. A small amount of research on this matter could prevent the company from suffering from a costly mistake later on. If employees are insistent that they will only attend a function if alcohol is served, then the employer must decide whether or not it is still doable for the company to continue with these types of functions. Remember that the company has the final say in this type of matter—not the employee.

Here are some ideas to help you decide if your company would like to serve alcohol at the function. One plan is to have the employees be allowed a "drink ticket." An allowance of one or two tickets should significantly reduce the risk of over-drinking. If cost per drink is an issue with employees, the employer could subsidize a portion of the price per drink and put a cap on it. For example, the company will pay for the first drink, but the employee will be responsible for any drinks thereafter. It's amazing how responsible employees become when they are paying for the alcohol themselves.

Probably the most important plan for a company to have is communication. Spell out the responsibilities of the employee before the function. For example, many companies are having their employees sign a waiver (sometimes even if no alcohol is served). The waiver can include everything from "presenting oneself in a respectable manner at all times" to "management reserves the right to call a cab for any employee under suspicion of excessive drinking." Be sure to have each employee sign the waiver before the function and review it with them to make sure everyone understands. Be sure to coach management that they will be responsible for setting a good example to all their employees.

Another option would be to have your function in or near a hotel. The employer could block out rooms and possibly receive a discounted rate for employees. There are many ways to have a successful function for your employees without the fear of disaster.

The simple answer would be to not serve any alcohol at a company function. If this is not an option for you, do your homework using good common sense and safety and come up with a plan that works for everyone.

This column contains human resource suggestions by human resource specialist. This information is not intended as professional or legal advice of any kind.

Please e-mail us at All questions to this site are confidential and names/identities are not published with the column.

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