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(This is a repost of an article originally published in 2013)

The days are getting shorter and the weather cooler. Fall is clearly here. For many employers, this means that plans for the office holiday party are in the works. It also means that many employees will be consuming alcohol at an employer-sponsored event.

Don’t let alcohol consumption ruin your holiday party or expose your business to unnecessary liability. Instead, when planning your next function, consider implementing the following pro-active strategies where practical and possible:

1) Avoid having your function be “work-related”

Hold your function outside of working hours and off company property. Employee attendance should be optional.

2) Find alternative location

Avoid holding your function on company property, at your home or any other location where you or your business might be considered to be an “occupier”. Instead, pay a facility (i.e. restaurant or banquet centre) to host your function. Confirm – ideally in writing – that the facility has professionally-trained bar servers who will serve the alcohol and monitor alcohol intake.

3) Where alternative location is not obtained

Ensure your own premises are safe (i.e. remove hazards or, where not possible, restrict access to hazard-free areas). Do not leave alcohol unattended or unmonitored. Hire professionally-trained bar servers and confirm – ideally in writing – your expectation that they will stop serving alcohol to intoxicated guests. Remain sober throughout your function so as to be alert if a situation arises.

4) Provision of alcohol

Have guests pay for, or bring, their own alcohol. Alternatively, limit the amount of free alcohol that you provide to each guest (i.e. use drink tickets).

5) Provision of other food and beverages

Provide alcohol-free beverages and food – preferably free of charge – throughout your function.

6) Timing of alcohol service

Alcohol service should ideally stop well before your function ends (e.g. 1 to 1.5 hours). This will allow guests an opportunity to start to “sober up” before leaving.

7) Avoid physical activities

Alcohol and physical activities do not mix well. Avoid physical activities at functions where alcohol is served, especially those that pose risk of danger or injury to guests.

8) Provide transportation

Consider providing free transportation to and from function. Alternatively, provide free transportation home (e.g. taxi chits; bus service), especially for intoxicated guests. If providing taxi chits, ensure they are readily available at your function. Consider having table near the exit to ensure that all guests, as they leave your function, have an opportunity to receive a taxi chit and/or otherwise receive safe transportation home.

9) Where transportation is not provided

Advise guests – well in advance of your function – that they must arrange for safe transportation home, if they will be consuming alcohol. Encourage employees to carpool with a designated driver, arrange for another individual to pick them up, or to use driving services such as Diamondz Designated Drivers® to get home. Never allow an intoxicated guest to drive. Call the police if necessary.

10) Communicate Expectations

Clearly communicate your expectations to employees – ideally in writing via a memo or email – well in advance of your function. Among other things, it should confirm that employees who choose to consume alcohol: (a) are fully responsible for their actions; and (b) must do so in a safe, moderate and responsible manner. It should also set out details regarding transportation options, whether provided by the company or not. Arrange for your MC to remind all guests of these expectations at your function.

11) Insurance! Insurance! Insurance!

Ensure that your existing insurance coverage: (a) extends to injury, damage and/or loss resulting from the consumption of alcohol at your function; and (b) is sufficient to cover any resulting liability. If not, you should purchase special “social host” insurance.

This holiday season when hosting your office holiday party, ensure that your guests drink responsibly, do not operate motor vehicles or engage in other dangerous activities, and make it home safely. By doing so, you will not only protect your guests and third parties from injury, you will reduce your business’ potential liability.

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