Most companies reward their employees with a holiday party, intended to promote morale and productivity. While most in management agree that a holiday party is good for the company, an important issue which must be addressed is whether or not alcohol will be included in the celebration. Based upon the recent ruling in Purton v. Marriott International, Inc. (2013) 218 Cal.App. 4th 499, every employer should either have an extensive plan for transporting employees to and from their homes as part of the event, or skip the alcohol altogether.
In Purton, the appellate court reversed a judgment entered in favor of the hotel employer, finding that the employer had potential liability if one of its employees caused injuries to third parties while driving after being supplied alcohol at a company party. In finding that the employer has potential liability, the court in Purton found that participation by an employee at a holiday party could be considered an activity within the course and scope of employment. The facts in Purton show how dangerous it is to the employer to allow any alcohol at a company event. Although the company offered only beer and wine to its employees, with two drink tickets per attendee, the employee took his own flask of Jack Daniels to the party, consumed it, and then refilled the flask with more Jack Daniels provided by the bartender. The employee managed to make it home safely after the party, but decided to drive another intoxicated coworker home and while doing so, struck another vehicle, killing a minor occupant.
The critical finding by the court on the issue of liability was that the attendance at the party could be considered to be within the course and scope of employment because the drinking of alcoholic beverages were a conceivable benefit to the employer or were a customary incident to the employment relationship so as to render the employee’s act of drinking to be within the scope of employment.
The lesson to be learned for employers is that it is best not to serve any alcohol at company sponsored events.