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Merry Making

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Holiday parties and other special events are a great way to show employees you appreciate all of their hard work. Employees get a chance to socialize with one another without impending deadlines or numbers to meet. They also give the business owner a chance to interact with employees in a less formal atmosphere, one unemcumbered by the pressures of the day-to-day running of the business. But for all of the merry making, one thing should loom large in an employer's mind this time of year--liability, especially when it comes to alcohol consumption at holiday events.

I know firsthand about the liability of serving alcohol at company-sponsored events. My late father, Rudy Kadlec, was the CEO of a 75-person firm in the 80s and 90s. He was probably the most fun-loving CEO a company could have, and he regulary sponsored corporate shindigs to recognize major milestones the company met or celebrate the holidays. And, being "one of the guys" -- his employees never really felt he was their boss, more a team player -- he never thought twice about supplying alcohol at these events. Afterall, he thought, we're all responsible adults here. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case at one of the summer picnics the company sponsored.

One employee volunteered to bring a keg to the picnic, which my father didn't see a problem with. However, that same employee proceeded to drink heavily, and at the end of the party, she got behind the wheel of a car with her husband and step-daughter as passengers. Sometime along the way home, she dangerously tried to pass a line of cars, and sadly, had a head-on collision, killing her step-daughter.

The legal ramifications of this accident were long and arduous. For two years, the victims, including the employee and her relatives, placed blame on the company, and specifically my father. It was heartbreak enough for him to know someone lost her life, but to have his own family's home and savings threatened, as well as the company's reputation and its own financial survival in question was extremely difficult. In the end, the driver was found at fault, though the company did extend financial help to her and her family despite their ruinous efforts.

So the moral to this story: Be careful this holiday season. Holiday events don't have to be open bar. If your employees snicker at that thought of an "alcohol-free" event, just explain to them that your workplace substance abuse policy includes disallowing the use of alcoholic beverages at office social functions. The U.S. Department of Labor offers nine tips this holiday season to address the use of alcohol at office parties. Give them a read. They might help you decide how to handle the issue of serving alcohol at your event.

Have a safe holiday!

Last updated: Dec 3, 2004




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