Anatomy Of A Decade

Party Fouls

When Holiday Cheer Turns To Catastrophe.

By Charlotte Mulhern

We've all heard about Christmas party nightmares--somebody drinks too much and gets into a tiff with a co-worker, or maybe inhibitions get skewed after a few beers and inappropriate comments or gestures are made. Some scenarios we've read about paint even darker pictures: A drunk employee driving home can cause accidents resulting in injuries--and sometimes even death. So much for holiday cheer.

Think it can't happen to you? Think again. Christmas parties, with all their laughter and fun, also set the stage for disaster. Who's drinking, and how much? Will they be driving? The worst part is that your company can be held liable for any unfortunate incidents that might occur.

An entrepreneurial property management firm in Seattle learned that lesson the hard way. In 1990, following a simple holiday affair of hors d'oeuvres, champagne and awards, one of their employees--later found to be driving while over the legal alcohol limit--rear-ended another motorist. Though damages and injuries were minimal, the business was still tied up in legal battles six years later.

Instead of discontinuing holiday parties in the ensuing years, the company made some procedural changes, including no-host bars, voluntary attendance, and bartenders who refuse to serve intoxicated party-goers. Perhaps most important, the company urges employees to be responsible, watch out for others and take a taxi home if they drink too much. They've even considered banning alcohol altogether, a policy more businesses are instituting in an effort to protect themselves.

The policy seems to be working for this company, and there have been no repeat performances. But the company's spokesperson reminds business owners: "There are always going to be individuals who don't take responsibility for their actions."

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This article was originally published in the December 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Anatomy Of A Decade.

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