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Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP

Drinking Alcohol at Company Holiday Events

It is once again that time of year. The holidays are coming up, and Americans everywhere are preparing their vacation requests, the children are dreaming of presents, and employers are coordinating their annual holiday parties. While not all companies host big parties at the year’s end, many still do.

alcoholIn fact, some sources say that in this post-recession rebound, upwards of 90 percent of companies still offer some sort of holiday party. And most of those parties include alcohol, whether provided by the employer, brought by employees, or sold at the venue.

reminder iconBut before you don your Santa suit and head out the door, take a few moments to consider how you can make this year’s holiday party the best one yet while taking control of your drinking at the company party.

Whether you are the employer or the employee, here are five things you should know about being responsible and under control when there is alcohol at the company party.

No. 1: Know the Law

Know the LawOnly a Long Island employment lawyer can give you the whole story, because the law varies widely from one place to another. What is legal in rural Kansas may lead to real trouble on Long Island – or vice-versa.

attorneyFor this reason, if you are hosting or organizing a large company party or even an intimate holiday get-together for your small business, you should consider contacting a local attorney who knows your state’s dram shop and social host liability laws. Not every state has such laws, but New York does.

disabilityIn New York, businesses are strictly liable for injuries caused by their patrons when they have served them too much alcohol or when they have served a minor. This, however, only applies to commercial alcohol sales. It does not extend to private individuals and holiday parties.

However, this does not mean you are off the hook if you throw a wild party and your employees go out and hurt someone while drunk. If you are co-hosting the event with a local bar or restaurant, you may share responsibility with the establishment. Further, you should have a plan in place to check identifications for legal drinking age, especially if the public has access to the venue. Some municipalities have social host laws.

notesFor example, the Nassau County social host law says that even a private citizen can be held liable for serving minors.

Just as important, consider that if your employees are injured while drinking at a holiday party, you may lose the protections of the workers’ compensation law. Usually, your employees have an “exclusive remedy,” meaning they must use the workers’ compensation laws to recover from your insurer. If, however, you provided alcohol irresponsibly and it led to the injury, your employee, and anyone he or she hurt, could potentially pursue an action against you for personal injuries. If you are at all uncertain of the law, check with a lawyer.

No. 2: Dress the Part

As the expression goes, “common sense is not so common.” This can easily be said of dressing for workplace events.

Dress the PartWhile not directly related to alcohol, the way you dress can go a long way toward demonstrating to those around you that you are there to socialize and network, not to get drunk and “party.”

This does not mean you must be stuffy and all business, but remember, it is business. If you look like a professional, people are less likely to invite you to behave otherwise. So leave the yoga pants and skinny jeans for another day. If in doubt, ask a trusted colleague who has a great reputation within the organization. That person can fill you in on what is appropriate.

No. 3: Encourage Responsibility

If you are the employer or manager, you should lead by example. It is your job to set the tone for the event.

Encourage ResponsibilityIf senior leadership stops working by 10 a.m. and begins drinking at noon, you can bet the employees will see this as the green light to begin drinking early as well. Likewise, you are putting the company’s reputation on the line.

If, however, you are the employee, remember that you are always on display. In every company, there are cliques or social groups who typically socialize in and out of the office. If you have a small group of friends, make sure they share your desire to party responsibly. If one or two of your friends plan to get wild, consider letting them know in advance that you are taking it easy and might leave a little early. This can deflate potential peer-pressure issues later. Likewise, you should have a backup plan to get home.

Set LimitsConsider scheduling a taxi for a set time so you can have a quick-exit plan.

No. 4: Set Limits

Set LimitsBefore you get dressed, before you step out your door, before you even call for a cab, decide in advance just how late you will be out and how many drinks you are okay having.

This may seem a bit arbitrary. In truth, it could be a lifesaver. If it is your first holiday party with the company, you may not know what to expect.

Set LimitsWill it be a big party? Will there be an open bar? What is the venue like? Is it loud or quiet?

Until you know, you should have a basic plan. Decide in advance. It is always best to decide on no more than two or three drinks, preferably weaker cocktails or wine. Take your time with each drink and substitute non-alcoholic drinks in between.

Set LimitsDrinks like tonic or even a diet cola can look just like a cocktail. No one would ever know you are not drinking at the company Christmas party. By doing this, you will be able to party later and enjoy yourself without becoming intoxicated and having your judgment severely impaired around co-workers.

No. 5: Be Proactive

Lastly, remember that you are not going to the company party in an attempt to show off your latest dance moves or hit on that guy or gal you keep eyeing by the water cooler.

Be ProactiveThis is your career. If you care about it, you should present the best image you can. Show senior management that you are a professional who takes the job and your image seriously. Demonstrate that you are capable of taking on responsibility. Plan ahead, have a backup plan, and prepare to help others too.

The holidays are a great time to bond with fellow workers, network with bosses, and make friends.

Be ProactiveAlcohol can be a terrific social lubricant and allow employees to let off steam and relax after a hard year of work. But as with anything, alcohol should be enjoyed responsibly, and your career depends on you making good decisions.

Even with the best planning, people can still be injured in car accidents, especially during the holidays.

If you are hurt in an accident caused by someone who was drinking at a holiday party, you should immediately contact an experienced Long Island personal injury attorney at the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP for help.

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