Yes, work events in the office can safely and responsibly include alcohol. In fact, many HR professionals acknowledge that alcohol can have a place at workplace functions. When employees manage their intake and employers set the right tone and company alcohol policy, wine, beer, cider, or cocktails can be a fun inclusion at holiday parties, team-building exercises, and more.
Establish and communicate a company alcohol policy
It all starts with solid policy and communication at the organizational level. Companies have an obligation (and often legal duty) to set a corporate alcohol policy so all employees know expectations, limits, and consequences. (See below for specific ideas on what to include in a company alcohol policy, but we recommend consulting your workplace attorney or legal counsel).
A good company alcohol policy helps protect both employees and employers at a range of gatherings, from beers at lunch to holiday parties and other workplace events. Part of this is straight-up liability protection. Employers typically have a legal responsibility to prevent intoxication, stop improper behavior, and prevent impaired driving. By setting the organization’s tone and expectations, a clear policy is the first line of defense.
Offer a limited bar and a range of food and non-alcoholic beverages
Start an office event with food and socializing, not drinks. That way people have an opportunity to get something in their stomachs before being served alcohol. (For example, open the bar after the event begins, such as 30 minutes or an hour later.)
Alcohol can be part of a workplace function, but it should never be the main event. Offer a limited choice of alcoholic beverages such as:
- One white wine
- One red wine
- One cider
- Two beers
If you plan to include cocktails, consider offering only a few specific ones or a signature event cocktail. Always include a range of non-alcoholic beverages such as water, sparkling water, tea, coffee, juice, soda, and perhaps a few non-alcoholic mocktails, be sure it’s clearly marked as a mocktail
In addition to food and beverage offerings, including discussions, games, speeches, or other activities so there’s more going on than a bar and buffet line.
Have your management team set a good example
Management doesn’t have to police behavior, but management does have a duty to ensure employee safety and take any needed steps should someone overindulge.
While the company’s alcohol policy may set rules and expectations, it’s up to company leadership to set the tone at the event itself. For example, a manager or executive who drinks excessively or encourages others to do so may cost the company’s reputation or lead to legal problems.
Here are some ways leadership can set a good example while keeping the event fun and positive.
- Limit or abstain from drinking (such as no more than two drinks).
- Observe guests for signs of unwanted behavior or overindulgence.
- When needed, gently remind employees of policy and expectations.
- If an employee has had too much to drink, make arrangements for a safe ride home such as a cab, designated driver, or rideshare.
Plan your event carefully
Ask yourself these questions.
What sort of event is the company organizing?
Holiday party? Company anniversary? Retirement party? A celebration of a big organizational accomplishment? Plan events, food, and beverages accordingly.
What alcoholic beverages will you offer?
Full bar? Select cocktails and spirits? Wine, beer, and/or cider only?
What is your company culture?
Getting to know your employees’ interests and likes and dislikes can help structure the presence of alcohol at your work events.
Nix the open bar and set limits instead
Popular ways for companies to limit consumption include providing a cash bar or using tickets, stamps, tokens, or another tracking method to limit employees to a predetermined number of alcoholic beverages.
Consider hiring professional bartending/alcohol waitstaff to ensure you have trained professionals to mix and serve drinks—and keep an eye on guests. Don’t allow guests to serve themselves or mix their own drinks. Another plus: Professional bartenders are licensed and insured for alcohol service. (Just make sure to confirm when you inquire.)
Check company liability
Talk with your company insurer to make sure your organization either has or adds the correct liquor liability coverage, especially if you’ll be handling service in-house. (Typically, liquor liability is inexpensive to add, or may already be included under your policy’s Bodily Injury and Property Damage Liability Coverage.)
Comply with all licensing and legal requirements
Anyone serving alcohol must be trained and certified. No matter who serves, check local, state, and federal licensing requirements in your area to make sure your event is in compliance.
No alcohol for anyone who appears intoxicated or is underage
Under no circumstances should bartenders serve alcohol to anyone who seems to be intoxicated or cannot prove they are of drinking age (this is often a legal and licensing requirement of personnel allowed to serve alcohol). Minors who drink at a company event can be a huge legal liability, as can improper behavior by someone who should have been cut off.
Limit how long alcohol is available
The bar doesn’t have to be open for the duration of the event. Set limited bar times, and consider closing the bar an hour prior to the scheduled end of the event.
Ensure employees have a safe ride home
Sometimes people overdo it. No matter what, you want to do all you can to prevent your employees from driving impaired. And every guest at your event deserves a safe way to get home.
- Limit the possibility of overindulgence: Serve food and non-alcoholic beverages, limit bar service, and set a maximum number of drinks per person.
- Have designated drivers available for rides home.
- Monitor exits and parking areas. (Depending on the size of the event, you may want to hire security as a precaution.)
- Make arrangements for expensing or pre-paid taxis, rideshare, or public transportation.
Planning and policy can help alcohol safely be part of workplace events
From holiday parties and team-building events to celebrations and other important occasions, there are times when alcohol is a great addition to a milestone in the workplace. Combine proper planning, solid policy, and responsible employees and management, and alcohol can safely be part of a company function. Put these tips to work in your workplace, and your team can enjoy a tasty beer, wine, or cocktail in the office.