What’s a CEO to do when holiday party guests drink too much?

Q: We had a holiday party where several employees probably had too much to drink. Their guests were worse. The guests did not think the rules applied to them because they were not employees. As the CEO of a small business, what are my rights here? I was fearful that people could get into an accident on the way home. We had a block of rooms reserved but some said that they did not plan on staying at the hotel.

A: It sounds like the situation was frightening. When you invite employees and their guests to an event, you expect everyone to use good judgment when alcohol is involved. The rules do apply to your guests… because they are YOUR GUESTS! You are inviting employees and their guests and it is a company event.

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You have a few choices. First you could ask the guests to leave, which would likely cause friction between the company, the guest and the employee. You could pay for the hotel room, which is a small investment compared to someone getting hurt or endangering others. Or you could pay for a cab ride home. There is some possible liability if you are the provider of the alcohol and someone gets hurts later that evening.

Next year, think about how to avoid this situation. Let employees know that you expect others (employees and guests) to exercise good judgment. Re-think the holiday party. Maybe do a lunch or breakfast instead. Or continue with a hotel event but plan to pay for rooms or cab vouchers.

The tone of holiday parties is often set by the senior leaders of the company. I remember many years ago a senior leader of my company shared cab vouchers with me to give to others. This Vice President knew many would be reluctant to approach him and ask for a voucher, but, if I handed them out, the vouchers would be readily accepted. It worked. There was no stigma and the senior team didn’t know who exactly used the vouchers. Some stayed at the hotel but many of the vouchers were used. It was not a wild party but some employees and guests should not have been driving that night.

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