Wanting to avoid hang-ups at its annual firm holiday party, the law firm of Dewey Cheatham and Howe invited its employees, their spouses and dates, and offered everyone a complimentary Uber ride home. For those living too far away, they were offered an overnight hotel stay.
Assuming that the free ride home was a license to drink without restraint and choosing not to take his wife, Schleeze Bagg did not work the day of the party, had a couple of drinks before and imbibed to his heart’s content all evening. Rather than Uber home, Schleeze and his assistant Ladda Climbar accepted the free overnight stay. Later that night Schleeze decided to drive Ladda home. The ensuing car wreck sent them both to the hospital and the teenage couple in the other car to the morgue. Problems for DC&H?
Maybe and no. Setting aside the possible sexual harassment exposure, under Texas law DC&H owes no legal duty to prevent someone from drinking and driving … even if they are minors… or even guests… and even if the social host knows the guest is intoxicated. The offer of free lodging or a free ride home was just that, a complimentary offer to employees with no strings attached, unless the employer somehow “took responsibility” for the employee, which could have a different ending.
While DC&H may have dodged legal liability to non-employees for Schleeze Bagg’s alcohol related accident, the relaxed environment and alcohol, and allegations of sexual harassment have possible repercussions beyond legal liability – affecting PR and public perceptions of DC& H and employee morale.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor.
Even if the company has limited or no legal exposure, actions speak louder than words when it comes to taking care of your employees and your company. Ten tips for planning and safely enjoying your company-sponsored event:
- Plan early and well to identify and avoid potential issues and to encourage professional behavior.
- Make attendance optional, and don’t take roll.
- Invite Spouses and dates to discourage spontaneous interludes.
- Celebrate after working hours with a professional bartender or servers trained to manage party goers and their intoxication, maybe even at a restaurant or bar
- Offer non-alcoholic beverages and plenty of food, especially if it’s sugary rather than salty.
- Consider offering free Uber rides home, being careful that doing so does not promote unrestrained drinking. Encourage the professional servers to assist in their use.
- Skip the mistletoe. It can lead to unwanted kissing or touching.
- Discourage overindulgence of alcohol, i.e., no “beer-drinking” contests.
- Discourage “after parties.”
- Post-Party touch base with key players to identify any potential issues and follow up.
After noting the number of alcohol related tips, you may want to ask yourself if alcohol is worth having.