Employers considering offering alcohol at holiday or recreational events need to consider the legal implications and possible liabilities they face for supplying employees with the substance. Although the practice is common, it can have devastating legal and financial outcomes when unregulated.
Employers Can Be Held Responsible
An example of employer liability is the case of Murton v. Marriott International, Inc., which was filed in the Fourth California Court of Appeals in 2009. The hotel company issued two drink tickets per employee at the company’s holiday party and further attempted to curb alcohol consumption by only offering beer and wine, according to Atkinson, Andelson Loya, Ruud & Romo Professional Law Corp. (AALRR).
However, after a review of the evidence, officials found that hotel servers did not comply with the company’s own consumption regulation policies and not only partook in consumption of hard alcohol with employees but also supplied liquor to Michael Landri, an employee who brought his own flask of hard alcohol.
Later in the evening, Landri left the party and drove home, ultimately striking another vehicle and killing the passenger. The parents of the victim filed suit against the hotel chain in a wrongful death suit after alleging the Marriott was the “respondeat superior,” meaning the employer held liability in the death. That claim was supported by the fact the company held the party, supplied the liquor and allowed the employee to drive home.
Other governments have enacted legislation that covers alcohol-related liabilities, such as Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Act. However, those provisions only apply to establishments like restaurants or bars where alcohol is provided by servers for money, according to JD Supra.
This means employers are floating in a gray area where their protection against wrongful death lawsuits, charges for property damage and serving minors are dictated by their insurance policies such as professional liability and workers’ compensation.
Other Alcohol Liabilities
In addition to the aforementioned risks, employers must also consider the possibility of sexual harassment and other lewd or unwanted sexual behavior that can arise as a result of intoxication, Journal Star reported. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace and can find negligent employers liable for incidents that occur at holiday or other work-sponsored events. Even situations that would be protected under Title VII that occur off work premises after an event can still be considered negligent on the employer’s part.