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Bar None

Today's holiday parties are drying up.

A generation ago, a business's recipe for a successful holiday party was simple: Stock up on plenty of alcohol, pour drinks freely, and be quick to overlook employees' inebriated mishaps. Still sound like a good formula? Forget it--today's company parties are very different affairs. "There are new rules for hosting parties," says Joseph West, chairman of the Department of Hospitality Administration in the College of Business at Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee. "The big change is, there's a lot less emphasis on booze."

Prudishness didn't dictate this change--caution did. "Many companies have been held liable for actions of employees who became intoxicated at events sponsored by the business," says Michael Blickman, an attorney with Ice Miller Donadio & Ryan in Indianapolis.

If a drunken employee is involved in an automobile accident after a party, watch out: Lawsuits may fly at you from the victim and possibly even the employee, and damage awards can quickly climb to business-breaking levels. "This is a real risk," says Blickman, who adds that too much alcohol may also lead to claims of sexual harassment. "That can be an employer's worst nightmare," notes Blickman.

Robert McGarvey writes on business, psychology and management topics for several national publications. To reach him online with your questions or comments, e-mail

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This article was originally published in the December 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bar None.

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