Alcohol at Holiday Office Parties: How to Prevent That Upcoming Office Party Disaster

by | Nov 16, 2010 | Blog, Office Party

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

The holidays are a wonderful time of year.  Everyone’s a little friendlier and a little cheerier. It’s a time to let bygones be bygones and begin anew with a fresh year. However, let’s make a goal that none of those bygones left over from the year be recreated at this year’s holiday office party.

The most important word to remember here is “Office.”

Repeat after me: I am still at work. This is my job. I work with these people every day.

Any variation on the theme will do. The point is to remember that regardless of whether the office party is actually held in the office or restaurant or a reception hall, it is still a work function.

Don’t exhibit any behavior that you do not wish to come back to haunt you.  This includes, first and foremost, consuming too much of anything that will prevent you from gauging or remembering your behavior.

As HR professionals and managers, it’s our job to prevent office party disaster and to help our employees by providing boundaries should their personal discretion fail, which as I’m sure many of us have witnessed first person, it sometimes does.

Handling the Serving of Alcohol

The most common downfall to office holiday parties is the overconsumption of alcohol.

Deciding whether or not to provide alcohol at the office party is a significant decision, one that must be made in accordance with the company culture and always with the express acknowledgement that drinking to excess is never acceptable.

You also need to understand your risks when making this decision. It’s more than just a matter of whether or not that guy from purchasing is going to end up attempting to break dance in front of the buffet (again). Who knew he was so nimble anyway?

In all seriousness, it’s also a matter of risk to your company.

Depending on state laws, employers may find themselves subject to claims covered by workers’ compensation if problems arise during or after an employer sponsored event. They may also be held liable if they are held responsible for permitting an employee to leave their sponsored event under the influence of alcohol and that employee is then involved in an accident. Employers also face the risk of being charged with harassment claims due to behavior of employees at holiday parties.

Concerned yet?

Because of these kinds of risks, many companies choose to forgo alcohol entirely at company event. Others choose to help prevent employees from overindulging by offering a number of other

Should you decide to serve alcohol at your holiday party, our certified hr professionals recommend you consider the following:

  • Provide drink tickets. You can help prevent employees from overindulging by providing drink tickets to limit the number of drinks made available to each employee or, at a minimum, the number of drinks that will be provided on the tab of the company.
  • Watch what you serve.  Consider serving only wine and beer and no hard or clear liquor. Also avoid serving any “special holiday punch” that may not readily reveal alcohol content (at least not until it’s too late!).
  • Don’t announce “last call” at the last minute.  Closing the bar early in the evening while there are still planned events (and plenty of food) to encourage employees to linger and let the alcohol wear off is a subtle option to prevent employees from heading out into the night with less than a clear head.
  • Have plenty of food. Start serving it early and keep it out until after the alcohol is put away.  You don’t want anyone drinking on an empty stomach, and you want to encourage employees to eat more than they drink.
  • Hire a professional. Hiring a professional bartender to serve alcohol is a must, even if the party is on premises – you do not want your employees (and Santa forbid, managers!) serving alcohol to other employees.  Communicate with your bartenders and make it clear that they are not to serve any alcohol to anyone who seems inebriated, and give them a management point of contact if they need helping dealing with an argumentative employee.
  • Provide transportation. Do not hesitate to call a cab for an employee. Even better, provide free cab service or other pre-arranged transportation to all employees.

The final consideration regarding alcohol is whether or not you have employees who will be reporting to work for a shift after the party, or who are on call.  If you have employees who must abstain from alcohol for these reasons, it may be a good idea to have cookies instead of cocktails at your event.

The best prevention is to be diligent and observant of your employees’ behavior throughout the night.

Read the next article in this series!

That’s not all you should be concerned about with your office party however. Our article, “7 Ways to Stop Holiday Office Party Disaster Before it Starts” discusses some important things you need to do to prepare for your office party in order to curb those bad situations before they happen, like preventing any more public break dancing displays from that budding superstar from purchasing.

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