By Kelline R. Linton,
With the holidays quickly approaching, employers who plan to host parties for their employees should be aware of the potential liability associated with providing alcohol.
Under Texas law, an employer is generally not responsible for injuries to an employee or a third party that an employee injures as a result of providing alcohol to the employee. However, the following are exceptions to the general rule:
• Under dram shop laws, a company that sells alcohol for a living is liable if the employer provides alcohol to obviously intoxicated persons. In Texas, these laws apply to licensed alcohol selling employers, such as bars and restaurants.
• Texas also holds employers liable if they provide alcohol to a minor under the age of 18.
• Lastly, employers may be liable under negligence or respondeat superior theories of recovery. Negligence means an employer owed a legal duty to its employee, it breached that duty, and the breach caused the employee injury. Respondeat superior means an employer is vicariously liable for the negligent acts of its employee if the employee’s actions are within the course or scope of his employment.
For example, an employer requires all employees to take cab rides home from the employer-sponsored party. The employer calls the cabs and ushers all the employees outside. However, the employer then leaves without waiting for the cabs to arrive and ensuring the employees actually take the cabs home. One of the employees tries to drive home intoxicated, crashes, and is grievously injured. While an employer would generally not be liable for serving the employee alcohol, the employer may now be liable under a negligence theory because the employer “took responsibility” for the employee and breached that responsibility.
What should employers do? Consider taking the following preventive steps to lessen liability exposure:
1. If you are serving alcohol, do not allow minors to attend the event.
2. Do not hold events involving alcohol during regular business hours.
3. If possible, host the party at a venue that has an alcohol license with a cash bar staffed by the venue. You will not be purchasing or serving the alcohol. Plus, you can request to be added as an additional insured on the venue’s liability insurance policy.
4. Or, hire a bartending service to provide and staff a cash bar on the employer’s premises. You once again avoid purchasing and serving the alcohol.
5. Discourage employees from drinking excessively, and stop serving anyone who appears visibly intoxicated. You also may regulate drinks by providing employees with drink tickets.
6. You may want to provide alternative forms of transportation, such as free taxis, but designate a sober supervisor to monitor and ensure that employees who sign up for the taxis actually use the taxis.
We are available to discuss further if you have any questions about potential liabilities associated with hosting a work party.