The more the merrier shouldn’t translate to employee alcohol consumption at this year’s holiday party.
Limiting the number of cocktails consumed is the key to hosting a safe office party, said Elizabeth Milito, senior executive counsel at the National Federation of Independent Business’ Small Business Legal Center.
“If I could give one piece of advice to employers, it would be, ‘If you’re serving alcohol, make sure you’re monitoring and potentially limiting consumption,’” she said. “This year give out drink tickets and/or don’t have an open bar during the entire six-hour party, but instead have it [open] three hours with last call two and half [hours] in.”
Last year, about 49 percent of companies reported they planned to serve alcohol during their holiday parties, according to a survey by Chicago-based consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
That number is lower than the roughly 62 percent of alcohol parties in 2016, which was the highest amount in the decade since the company started the survey.
Ben Hase, managing partner for the Employers Council, said “drinking and all things related to alcohol” should be an employer’s biggest concern during a holiday party.
“Holiday parties tend to bring out the inner party goer in your employees,” he said. “Just about every time we deal with something post holiday party, it has to do with somebody consuming too much alcohol.”
Serving alcohol at holiday parties can result in employees driving drunk in addition to increasing the likelihood of harassment, Milito said.
“Alcohol lowers the inhibitions, and it can create problems and liability for business owners,” she said.
Hase added, “When people drink too much, they tend to behave in a way that they might otherwise not, and sometimes that leads to romantic expressions towards coworkers or saying inappropriate things that you wouldn’t otherwise say.”
Milito recommends having the party off-site, where there is professional staff serving any alcohol.
“These sort of celebrations should be voluntary and by having an off-site party, it reinforces that it’s voluntary,” she said. “And then, also with regard to the alcohol, if you’re having dinner at a restaurant or rented facility, there likely will be a professional bartender or somebody else who’s employed by the establishment that is serving and monitoring drinks being served.”
The consulting firm’s annual survey reported about one-third of the companies last year planned to host the holiday party at the office, which was up from the 28 percent in 2016.
Hase placed more emphasis on having the proper staff serving beverages than the location of the festivities.
“You can have a lot of the same advantages with an on-site party — if you hire bartenders and things like that,” he said.
Other guidance included avoiding hanging mistletoe or labeling the event a “Christmas party,” Hase said.
“Sometimes people have certain religious backgrounds and might feel uncomfortable if they feel the holiday party is deemed a certain way,” he said. “Then it infringes on their religious rights if they are forced to attend, so regardless, having the parties be optional is a good idea.”
Hase also advises to invite spouses and partners of employees to the parties.
“People are less likely to overindulge and act inappropriately when their significant other is there,” he said. “But I understand some employers do employee-only parties because that can, of course, cut down on costs.”
There was just more than a 5 percent drop in 2017 from the previous year in the number of companies that intended to invite spouses, partners and friends to office celebrations, according to the consulting firm’s survey.
Meanwhile, Hase said there are a few logistical options employers might consider to avoid possible legal hangovers.
“The first thing is think about transportation,” he said. “For the people who are consuming too much alcohol, do you want to have things like vouchers for Uber or a taxi service or even overnight accommodations?”
Additionally, both the lawyers said speaking with managers and reminding them of proper workplace behavior before the party could be beneficial.
“You have a conversation with your supervisors about alcohol consumption and then a reminder that this is a work function,” Milito said. “You also tell them if things are getting out of hand, if you see somebody that’s obviously intoxicated and walking out with their car keys in their hands, stop them, and offer them a cab ride home.”
Hase said it might be wise to send out a company wide email, reminding all employees of expectations for the party.
“It can be a simple memo that encourages people to have fun but also drink responsibly and act appropriately,” he said.