Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fewer Cheers: Firms Are More Careful about Alcohol at Office Parties

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fewer Cheers: Firms Are More Careful about Alcohol at Office Parties

Article excerpt

'Tis the season when employees can get tipsy as the spiked-punch bowl replaces the water cooler at some holiday office parties.

But efforts here and nationwide seek to make employers who do serve liquor more responsible hosts, particularly this time of year as alcohol-related traffic accidents reach their annual highs. On New Year's Day, for example, 2,000 people nationwide will be hospitalized with injuries from alcohol-related traffic accidents.

"New Year's Eve is amateur night, because a lot of people drink who don't usually drink," said Victor Colman, an attorney with The Responsible Hospitality Institute, a nonprofit group based in Massachusetts.

"Clearly, the holiday season is a risky time, but it doesn't mean you shut down and prohibit all drinking," said Colman. "We believe there is a middle ground."

Colman said that some employers' palms sweat over liability for intoxicated employees, not just at office parties in December but year-round at special events, meetings and conventions.

"But employers are being more careful about unmitigated provision of alcohol," he said. "More and more are waking up to the fact that there are risks attached to that."

In this area, some companies avoid the problem by banning booze at holiday parties. Among them is McDonnell Douglas Corp. The company, headquartered in north St. Louis County, prohibits alcohol on the workplace campus any time.

At the Creve Coeur campus of Monsanto Co., alcohol gets served only rarely. For holiday parties held in the office, the corporate policy mandates soft drinks and iced tea.

At Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., employees toast the holidays with beer at parties held outside the workplace. "We feel our beers belong at Christmas parties for those adults who want them - not as the center of attention, but as a traditional complement to celebration," said Joseph P. Castellano, vice president of consumer awareness and education.

Campaigns for a drug-free workplace, increased media attention to drunk driving and the popularity of sobriety also help curb consumption of booze at office holiday parties and throughout the year.

"These factors together say it is unfair to spend company money on liquor when so many people don't drink," said James M. …

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