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Tips to Avoid Company-Sponsored Holiday Party Liability.

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Tips to Avoid Company-Sponsored Holiday Party Liability.

By Solovic
Published: December 8, 2009

As an employer, you can be held liable for actions that occur during or as the result of your company-sponsored social event – particularly if alcohol is being served. It’s a concept known as social host liability, and it is recognized by many courts across the country. While each state’s laws differ, there are some general guidelines you can follow to make sure your holiday festivities are fun, safe and don’t land you in court.

  • Make sure employees understand attendance at the company-sponsored event is purely voluntary. Eliminate any perception that work is being conducted.
  • Plan your menu carefully so as there aren’t a lot of salty foods. When people are thirsty, they naturally drink more.
  • Don’t provide a self-serve bar for guests. Either serve your guests their drinks or hire a professional bartender who can recognize when someone has had enough.
  • Opt for a cash bar instead of an open bar. Or limit the number of free drinks for each guest.
  • Consider hosting your holiday party in the afternoon instead of the evening. People tend to drink less during the day.
  • Arrange for designated drivers and/or provide alternative transportation. Don’t let someone talk you into driving home when they have had a few too many.
  • Make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available for your guests.
  • Close the bar about an hour prior to the end of the party. As an alternative, provide a coffee and desert bar.
  • Don’t consume alcohol yourself during the event. It is important for you to keep a clear head so you can make prudent judgments.

As a business owner, remember, even though it’s a party, it is still business related. You should manage it with the same propriety you manage your business every day. It is possible to host a fun holiday event, without exposing your business to potential costly liability. (Please consult with your local business attorney as this blog is not intended to substitute for legal advice.)

Susan Wilson Solovic | Small Business Expert
Author: The Girls' Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business
CEO and Founding Partner --
37 Portland Place
St. Louis, MO 63108

About the Author:

Susan Solovic
Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and a small business contributor to ABC News and other media outlets, public speaker and attorney. In addition to sitting on several executive boards of small business organizations, Solovic is the CEO and co-founder of – a company she led from a concept to a multi-million dollar enterprise.(formerly She is also a featured blogger on numerous sites including Huffington Post,, Constant Contact, and Fast Company. Her forthcoming book, It’s Your Biz: The Complete Guide to Becoming Your Own Boss, is scheduled for release in October 2011.


Yes the restaurants as well as the bartenders/servers providing the drinks are also liable. I would recommend that you have it somewhere that has its own liquor license and have your employees sign waivers stating that this is not a company mandated even and all individuals are there at their own leisure and are personally responsible for their actions.
I am curious, when you are hosting a holiday party for your business at a restaurant, do they share in the liability for the attendees? Do they have any obligation to prevent obviously inebriated people from driving?
Its easy to forget something as important as this around the holday's. I wonder how many employers have had a bad situation because of drunk employees.

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