Alcohol & Company Liability

We have an issue that from a corporate stand point I'm not sure how to address. We are a small company and we support many company functions for our employees and alcohol is served at some of the events.

Our Christmas dinner was held this past Saturday and alcohol was served and paid for by the company. After the company dinner many of the employees left and went to a nightclub as a group. At the night club one of the employees grabbed a co-workers spouse and held her head and kissed her. That was neither the beginning nor the end of his inappropriate behavior throughout the evening. Only the one employee has made threats of pressing charges for sexual assault. He made mention that as a company we are responsible even though nothing happened at the company dinner and that the person in question continued drinking after he arrived at the nightclub.

My question is if we served alcohol at our Christmas dinner and then employees left and continued to drink elsewhere are we liable for what occurred at the nightclub simply because this person was first served alcohol at the restaurant during dinner? The injured party thinks yes.

The out of line employee will be given a verbal reprimand that he has violated our corporate conduct agreement and in the future there will be a 2 drink minimum at any company event where we have in the past offered alcoholic beverages but I don't know if this will be enough.

Has anyone had an issue like this and if so did you contact an attorney?


  • 6 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • First of all, it would be a 2 drink MAXIMUM. Ha, the only reason I noticed is because I made the same mistake on an insurance quote.

    I have not had an incident like this but I have some thoughts.

    What does the "injured" party want? You are going to discipline him. Do they need pain and suffering money? If so they are full of crap and only see this as an opportunity to bilk money out of you.

    I will also add that a verbal reprimand may not be enough for this guy. You said he continued to do "other" things throughout the night. I wonder what they could be?

    Just some rambling thoughts...I'm sure others will chime in.

  • We do not allow alcoholic drinks at company functions. I agree with the other poster that a verbal warning may not be strong enough. If this is the first time this has happened, you are setting the standard as to how it will be preceived going forward. Do you have a company policy that addresses such matters? If not, now would be a good time to include it in the ole handbook. Are they saying the ee was already well under the influence when he left the company function? There could be so many "what if's" in your message.
  • The issue of alcohol at company functions with liability and loss of inhibitions rises again and again. We banned it here to do away with such issues. As for the employees, in my opinion when they voluntarily left the company function and again voluntarily went to another watering hole, it ceased to be a company function. At that time, they were taking their own risks just as a group of co-workers going to a bar after work on a Friday night. As for the employee, if he is an agressive and obnoxious drunk, then he needs to stay sober and if he cannot stay sober at company functions then he should be fired. I would tell him just that. I worked with an obnoxious drunk one time and in my opinion they never change.
  • I read an article about this recently, but didn't save it unfortunately. My understanding is that while at the company sponsored function the company is liable and responsible for ee's behavior, but as soon as they leave, company responsibility ends.

    You mentioned the aggressor's behavior neither began nor ended at the nightclub. Was he guilty of inappropriate behavior while at the company sponsored event? If so, you are liable for that and it needs to be addressed.

    This sounds serious enough that you probably should contact an attorney, I would. I agree with others, if truly guilty, this guy probably deserves more than a verbal reprimand.
  • What we sometimes think is a reasonable and defensible separation of company responsibility for employee’s behaviors when not associated with a specific company activity, can easily be twisted around by a “good and hungry lawyer”. Having last year settled an off premises birthday party harassment that our company had no knowledge of until the victim came forward some 6 weeks later, I would recommend a through investigation and discipline of the harasser, and guidance from your company’s attorney. Although my company has a policy on behaviors (including the limited use of alcohol at any company activity) the problem in this harassment was that the supervisor as the harasser was perceived, and suggested by the opposing attorney, to have required the employees to attend the birthday celebration (where alcoholic was readily consumed) even though it was not a company sponsored activity. After approximately 2 years of “lawyering” and some $65,000 later, I will never again assume that the company cannot be held liable for employees’ behaviors in any “after hours” circumstances. It’s really good advice to contact you attorney early on.
  • I agree that there are a lot of "what ifs" in this letter, but there is a big one that was not mentioned. It seems the drinking started at the company sponsored Christmas Party, so "what if," this person left the company sponsored party after having X number of drinks, got in his car and, on his way to the nightclub, caused a traffic accident where there was a fatality of another person. I can see lawyers rushing to the scene on that one and pointing the finger at the employer as being liable. I can see the injured party in this case doing the same thing. The best way to avoid these types of situations is to not allow alcohol at any company sponsored party. I am sure mature adults can go a couple of hours without having a drink. You will find "the company drunk" at all company functions where alcohol is served, but if you don't allow it, they usually won't come. Sorry for the rambling, but I have seen too many of these situations where the employer was trying to reward the employees for their hard work and one drunk employee has to ruin it. I think you were pretty light on the discipline on this one, but I don't know your employee. On the upside to this post, I wish everyone a "Merry Christmas and "Prosperous New Year."
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