Alcohol Served At Company Christmas Parties Can Lead To Employer Liability

The holiday season is just around the corner, and many Indianapolis residents plan to attend company parties where alcohol will be served. These events are intended to be largely social ones that bring together employees in the joyous spirit of the Christmas. However, it is important for both employers and employees to think about liability for car accidents that happen as a result of alcohol consumption at a company gathering.

When an intoxicated employee causes an accident after drinking at a company party, the employer may be held liable for damages in some instances. If you or someone you love suffered a severe injury caused by a drunk driver who drank at a company Christmas party, you may be able to file a claim against the employer.

Drinking at the Company Christmas Party

Generally speaking, employers can be held liable for accidents caused by intoxicated employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior. As the Cornell University Legal Information Institute (LII) explains, this legal doctrine “holds an employer or principal legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment or agency.” In other words, the doctrine says that an employer can be liable for an employee’s actions in certain situations. If an employee behaves negligently within the scope of employment and that negligence or bad act hurts another person, the employer may be responsible for damages.

What does “within the scope of employment” mean? This seemingly broad term can encompass more than just the usual work hours. Courts often determine that company-sponsored events—such as Christmas parties that occur in the evenings—are still within the scope of employment. In order to decide whether an event like a party is within the scope of employment, a court might ask questions such as:

  • Did the employer require employees to attend the event, or was the event optional?
  • Did the employer’s business benefit in some way from the event? For instance, were clients invited to the gathering? Did employees discuss specific business projects or clients at the party?
  • Did the employer pay for the event? For instance, did the employer purchase the alcohol being served at the event and hire the bartenders who served the employees?

In general, work-related social events likely will fall within the scope of employment. Yet cases of employer liability can be complicated, and it is important to discuss the specific facts of your case with a personal injury attorney in Indianapolis.

Common Accidents and Injuries at Company Parties

Car accidents are among the most common incidents that result from an employee drinking at a company party. By and large, courts across the country have determined that employer liability arises when an employee drinks too much at a company party, drives away from the gathering, and causes serious or fatal injuries to someone else in a drunk driving accident.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 30 people die every day in alcohol-related car accidents. To put that number another way, an alcohol-impaired driver causes an accident that results in fatal injuries every 51 minutes.

Tips for Employees and Employers to Enjoy Christmas Parties Safely

It is important for both employees and employers to have a better understanding of steps they can take to reduce the risk of a deadly accident after an office party. Employers should consider some of the following to reduce their risk of liability in alcohol-related accidents occurring around a company gathering:

  • Do not require your employees to attend the party. Instead, make it known that attendance is optional.
  • Do not allow minors to be served alcohol.
  • Make and enforce a drink-limit policy. If you are paying the bartenders to serve your employees, you can limit the number of drinks had by each employee and ensure that your bartenders abide by the drink-limit policy.
  • Make and enforce a policy that prevents employees—including bartenders—from smuggling in additional alcohol. For instance, employees may bring flasks of liquor to a Christmas party. If employees consume alcohol outside the drinks monitored by the bar, they may become intoxicated quickly.
  • Consider serving alcohol for only a portion of the party. By limiting the amount of time employees have access to the bar, your employees are likely to consume less alcohol over the course of the evening.
  • You should always serve food when you are also serving alcohol.
  • Emphasize to employees that they will not suffer any repercussions for calling a taxicab to leave the party. It is better to be safe than sorry. It is also a good idea for employers to offer to pay or reimburse for cab rides taken by intoxicated employees after a company party.
  • Consider forbidding alcohol at your company party altogether. Although it may be an unpopular decision to throw a “dry party,” it may be a decision that prevents a dangerous alcohol-related car accident.

Employees should consider many of the same issues as their bosses, but employees should take different steps to prevent a fatal alcohol-related accident:

  • Do not drink before you arrive at the party.
  • Limit yourself to one drink—even if just to ensure that you do not behave inappropriately around your boss and colleagues. A study from Canon Treatment Centers reported that “more than half of those who have attended work-related social events have seen colleagues behaving inappropriately, from flirting with co-workers to driving drunk.”
  • Do not let your guard down even though this is a social event. It is extremely important to remember that you are still at a work-related gathering.
  • If you notice that a colleague appears to be very intoxicated, you should let someone know who can call a taxi to prevent that person from drinking and driving.

Contact an Indiana Car Accident Lawyer

Serving alcohol at the company party can result in serious alcohol-related accidents and injuries. If you or someone you love sustained injuries in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver, you should discuss your case with an experienced Indiana car accident lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the Sevenish Law Firm to learn more about how we can assist with your claim.