10th December 2013

Mistletoe and Wine

Is there anything wrong with a free bar at the office party?

Ten years ago, my answer to that question would have been “no”.  However, given my involvement in numerous employment tribunals over the past ten years which have centred around employees and free bars, my answer would now be “yes”.

Whilst you might want to provide a number of celebratory drinks for employees to reward them for their hard work over the year, remember that maintaining a free bar throughout the evening will encourage excessive alcohol intake.  This might be a factor relied upon by an employee in any future dispute with the employer.

Employers should also remember that there is a duty of care owed to employees and that there are obligations under the Health & Safety at Work Act.

If you are offering a free bar, I would suggest that you consider implementing my own party rules to any such office party.

Where possible, I always try and follow the 3 Ls:

Line your stomach!  Ensure that there is plenty of food available for party goers at the beginning of the night.  If you are serving a meal, ensure that the meal is not served too late so as to avoid excessive alcohol consumption early in the evening.

Limit your intake!  Consider restricting the amount of free alcohol which is available.  Do you want to set time limits for the free bar?  Do you want to provide lager and wine as opposed to whisky and skittle-bombs?

Limber up on the dance floor!  Consider putting on entertainment.  If you provide a disco for employees, this might restrict the number of people who spend the evening propping up the bar.  Encourage your colleagues to throw some shapes on the dance floor, even if this means that you require to lead by example.

Ultimately however, despite the festive cheer, employers should be prepared to ask individuals to take it easy, if they appear worse for wear.  (I only hope that nobody feels the need to have that conversation with me on Friday!)

Simon Allison
Partner – Employment Law 

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