How to Have a Safe and Professional Holiday Party

Let’s face it, December social calendars are brutal. Between work, school and family obligations, people are constantly on the go. This can lead some employees to being over-tired or otherwise impaired to perform their job duties. What do you as an employer when you suspect this is the case?

Be Strategic

As every mother has said for time immemorial, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” At least as far as scheduling your own soirée, plan it for either late in the day so that no one is expected to return to work afterward, on a Friday evening so people have the weekend to rest, or another time when there is little chance of employees performing work obligations after having too good a time. 

In my own career, I recall too many instances of managers taking their staff out for a celebratory luncheon and things becoming a little too real in the office later that afternoon. As I laid out in a prior article, there are ways to minimize the impact of alcohol consumption, but I’ve seen many an embarrassed colleague (and a derailed career or two) after a celebration. Don’t set your staff up for (potential) failure.

Be Observant

While you may have planned your company activity for a time and place that was unlikely to interfere with your workplace, there are numerous other events taking place throughout the month as well. This is a good month to be vigilant for workplace safety issues, especially if you have workers who are driving vehicles, operating machinery or engaging in other hazardous tasks on- or off-site. 

Take an extra walk or two around the floor daily this holiday season. Look at your employees and see how they are doing. Is anyone unsteady, shaky, asleep? What are the reactions from your clients when they interact with your people? Watch your financials daily to see if mistakes are being carelessly made. If you suspect that one of your workers has been too merry and is now not too bright and cannot fulfill his or her obligations, you must take action.

Be Prepared

Hopefully, you have an Employee Handbook that’s been published and distributed to your employees, and within that document you’ve laid out an Alcohol and Drug policy. As I tell all my clients, these documents are essential to all employers. Whether you have one employee or one hundred, there will be a day that you will be so happy that you have an Employee Handbook. One of those days might be when you suspect an employee is impaired by alcohol and unable to do “X”.

An Alcohol and Drug policy lays out consequences of being impaired on the job. Consequences can range from being sent home immediately to being required to report for testing; in some instances, immediate dismissal may be warranted. (Naturally, if you send them home, please arrange a ride or make sure they take public transportation.)

Of course, as an employer you need a reasonable suspicion that someone is impaired. A "reasonable suspicion" must be based upon specific, reliable observation that you can articulate concerning the appearance, behavior, speech or body odor of the employee. Smelling alcohol on somebody’s breath, observing slurred speech, and other similar items would count. However, be sure that you have the same “reasonable suspicion” standard for all employees. You cannot treat management differently than staff, men differently than women, young differently than old, or one race or ethnicity differently than another. The policy is the policy and personal prejudices cannot come into play.

The “I”s Have It

If you see one of your employees having an issue with safety, remember these three steps:

  • Intervene– Stop the safety infraction immediately upon discovery. Do not let it continue until a break time or for fear of embarrassing or upsetting the employee.
  • Instruct– Explain the safety rule and the rationale for it to the employee. Determine if the employee is capable of being instructed at this time, or if he or she needs to be sent home.
  • Inform– Tell the employee that continued non-compliance with the safety rule will result in further disciplinary action, including, possible termination. 

Everyone wants the holidays to be a season of joy. Following these tips will help ensure that your business is protected while everyone is celebrating.


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Francine E. Love
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Founder and Managing Attorney at Love Law Firm, PLLC which dedicates its practice to New York business law