Q. I’m an HR director and I’m planning our company’s holiday party. What is our liability as the host if we serve alcohol?
A. Under Pennsylvania law, a social host (including companies that host parties or social events) has no legal liability to an adult (anyone 21 or older) to whom they serve alcohol. In addition, social hosts do not have any legal liability to persons injured by intoxicated adult guests—even if it can be proved that the host had some reason to believe the guest was intoxicated and might drive. However, social hosts are legally liable to people under 21 to whom they knowingly serve alcohol and are also liable to anyone whom an underage drinker injures.
These nine tips come from the U.S. Labor Department’s Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workplace program. Follow them to minimize the negative consequences of alcohol consumption at your holiday party.
1. Be honest with employees. Make sure your employees know your workplace substance abuse policy and that the policy addresses the use of alcoholic beverages in any work-related situation and office social function.
2. Post the policy. Use every communication vehicle to make sure your employees know the policy. Before an office party, use break room bulletin boards, office e-mail and paycheck envelopes to communicate your policy and concerns.
3. Reinvent the office party concept. Why have the typical office party? Try something new like an indoor carnival, group outing to an amusement park or volunteer activity with a local charity.
4. Make sure employees know when to say “when.” If you do serve alcohol at an office event, make sure all employees know that they are welcome to attend and have a good time, but they are expected to act responsibly.
5. Make it the office party of choice. Make sure there are plenty of nonalcoholic beverages available.
6. Eat … and be merry! Avoid serving lots of salty, greasy or sweet foods, which tend to make people thirsty. Serve foods rich in starch and protein—they stay in the stomach longer and slow down the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream.
7. Designate “party managers.” Remind managers that even at the office party, they may need to implement the company’s alcohol and substance abuse policy.
8. Arrange alternative transportation. Anticipate that some partygoers might drink too much to drive safely. Make special transportation arrangements in advance (e.g., taxis or shuttles to public transportation). Encourage all employees to make use of the alternative transportation methods if they consume any alcohol.
9. Serve none for the road. Stop serving alcohol before the party officially ends. Employers should review their company policies regarding alcohol consumption and enforce these policies at all company celebrations.