By Jason Jordan
For the Oregon Beer Growler
A bartender is legally liable for serving alcohol to a patron who becomes intoxicated and then injures a third party. Does a business face similar exposure when it hosts a social event where alcohol is served, such as an open house or employee picnic?
According to the Insurance Information Institute, liquor liability exposure is not limited to those whose primary business is the sale of alcoholic beverages. Most states currently have social host statutes or common law that holds private event hosts liable for the actions of their guests. You are considered a social host if you provide alcohol to individuals in a non-commercial manner. It is important to know the law in your jurisdiction and to take the appropriate steps to control your risk.
Create a Risk-Management Program
An important first step in limiting your liquor liability is to implement a risk-management program. The liquor liability program must have the support of management, be communicated to supervisors and employees and include a policy advising employees to drink responsibly at company events.
The program should describe the procedures for handling intoxicated guests. This includes delegating who will assess the situation, such as hotel security or someone from your organization, and outlining appropriate actions for dealing with or removing a guest who has overindulged.
In the Event of an Incident
If an incident occurs, fill out a liquor liability incident report documenting measures taken to control the intoxicated person. This helps your defense in the event of an alcohol-related accident.
In addition to proper liquor liability planning and education, review your company’s current general liability insurance policy to determine your coverage in social-host situations.
Remember, even with the proper coverage, a liquor liability policy does not eliminate your exposure if alcohol service is in violation of a statute or a minor/intoxicated person is served.
It’s also important to have a program in place that includes the following recommendations when working with third-party vendors:
· When working with a vendor, such as a caterer or bartender, verify they are licensed and insured.
· Stipulate in your vendor’s contract that only those who have received alcohol-awareness training should serve or sell alcohol at your event.
· Require the vendor to provide a certificate of liability insurance to include liquor liability coverage naming your company as additional insured.
Promoting Safety and Sobriety at Company-Sponsored Events
To promote the safety and sobriety of your employees and guests at company-sponsored events, review the following recommended control measures:
· Serve drinks to guests rather than offering a self-serve bar.
· Set up bar stations instead of having servers circulating the room; if offered, people are inclined to accept drinks they wouldn’t have otherwise ordered.
· Place table tents at each bar reminding employees and guests to drink responsibly.
· Don’t price alcohol too low, as it encourages over-consumption.
· Offer a range of low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks at no charge.
· Require servers to measure spirits.
· Always serve food with alcohol.
· Close the bar an hour before the scheduled end of the party.
· Do not offer a “last call,” as this promotes rapid consumption.
· Never raffle alcohol or hold contests that involve buying or drinking alcohol.
· Entice guests to take advantage of safe transportation options by subsidizing taxis or promoting a designated driver program.
· If your event includes a program or speaker, schedule it after dinner and drinks are served. This allows additional time for alcohol to wear off.
Before your company hosts its next event, contact Propel Insurance. We can review your coverage and assist in developing a risk-management plan that keeps safety at the center of your company-sponsored events.
As a classically trained chef and insurance expert in the craft beverage industry, Jason has honed his palate for flavors as well as his skills in risk assessment. And he prides himself on his expertise in delivering the quality of service and knowledge, carefully crafted and tested over time, which his clients expect and deserve.
By Chris Morehead
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Most craft beer industry (CBI) employers will be throwing a shindig in the coming weeks to celebrate the holiday season as well as the employees and hard work that went into the previous year. Beer (and other adult libations) will be consumed, inhibitions will undoubtedly loosen and stories will be shared. And why shouldn’t they? Company holiday parties are held in order to strengthen existing bonds and help build positive workplace relationships.
But, from an employment law perspective, holiday parties also have an inherent degree of risk. Who hasn’t witnessed or heard about an employee having a little too much “Christmas cheer,” or a couple of employees getting a little too friendly? The truth is, my firm has defended dozens of claims that originated at a holiday party, when something at a well-meaning, company-sponsored event went awry.
Here are some tips CBI employers should consider when planning this year’s holiday party:
1. Transportation: Breweries and brewpubs often have holiday parties on company premises or at the owner’s home. Beer, and more, will be present, and it will be consumed. But if an employee or other guest leaves drunk (certainly not inconceivable) and gets behind the wheel, there are definite safety and liability concerns. Consider getting taxi vouchers beforehand and passing them out at the party. In places where Uber and Lyft operate, consider prearranging to distribute codes that automatically bill the company — not the rider — for the trip fare. This will not only be greatly appreciated by the guests, but it should also help ease the mind that everyone is getting home safely.
2. Open bar? Hire a pro: While many would recommend not having an open bar (stocked with the hard stuff) in the first place, the reality is that many companies do so anyway. If your company falls in that category, consider spending a few extra dollars to hire a bartender. That might sound silly if many of your employees are perfectly qualified for the role, but the reality is that if an employee is performing “work,” they are entitled to compensation. And while it might be extremely unlikely that the employee would complain or say something at the party, that could change if the employment relationship ever sours and the employee wants payback (literally and figuratively). In addition, while everyone else is enjoying that new porter or altbier, having a trained, sober professional present will help you keep an eye out to make sure no one is getting overserved.
3. Have fun, but be mindful of all: Most CBI employers are small, and the employees get along. That tends to create a laid-back atmosphere, and people aren’t worried about offending each other. While that is certainly a positive work environment, and should be applauded, it’s important to remember that guests at holiday parties are generally outsiders, and might not be accustomed to your company’s culture or personalities. While this may be stating the obvious to some, CBI employers should try to avoid alienating their guests. Some simple tips include: making sure it’s called the “holiday” party and not the “Christmas” party; don’t use religious-themed decorations; when sending out invitations, use neutral language like “partner” or “significant other” rather than “husband” and “wife;” mistletoe is a bad idea altogether, as is asking about plans to get married or having kids; and just because your friends think an off-color joke is funny, it doesn’t mean everyone else does.
The bottom line is that all your employees and guests should leave the holiday party with the same (or hopefully even better) perception of your company. Happy holidays!