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Tips for reducing the risk of trouble during a company party

FILE- In this Nov. 23, 2013, file photo a server fills wine glasses in St. Helena, Calif. The alcohol will flow less freely, and sometimes not at all, at some small business parties this holiday season. Owners concerned about sexual misconduct and the safety of staffers and guests are eliminating or limiting the open bar, making their events alcohol-free or switching from a traditional cocktail party to activities including games and contests. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

NEW YORK (AP) — The holiday party at a small business can be fraught with legal problems if staffers or guests drink too much. If they engage in sexual misconduct or are involved in accidents of any sort, a company owner can be held legally liable.

Employment lawyers and human resources consultants say they’re getting more questions than in the past from small business owners who want to know what they can do to protect themselves. The safest route is to not serve alcohol. But that’s advice that’s often ignored; owners don’t want to come across as not trusting their employees, or to be treating them like they’re irresponsible teenagers.

If owners are going to serve alcohol, there are steps they can take to lessen the likelihood of problems. Here are some of them:

— Have a sit-down meal in a restaurant rather than a cocktail party; the structure of the event will make people less likely to misbehave. And the earlier you schedule the meal — a lunch as opposed to a dinner — the less they’re likely to drink.

— If you’re having the party on your premises or in an event space, hire a professional bartender, someone who has a trained eye for signs that someone has had enough to drink and shouldn’t be consuming any more alcohol.

— Use tickets or coupons to limit the number of drinks anyone can order. Some owners assign ticket numbers to individual staffers who then must show an ID to a bartender along with a ticket. That stops people from asking co-workers for tickets they’re not going to use.

— Don’t have an open bar. Beer and wine have lower alcohol content and take longer to consumer.

— Don’t make drinking the centerpiece of the party. An activity like bowling, board games, painting, and even newer trends like hatchet-throwing will take people’s minds off alcohol.

— Be prepared to get taxis and car services for anyone who’s had too much to drink.

— If staffers are going to hold their own after-party, no one in management, including the boss, should be there. Employment law attorneys warn that if even one supervisory person is in attendance, the company could be held liable if there are accidents or injuries from staffers drinking too much.

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Follow Joyce Rosenberg at www.twitter.com/JoyceMRosenberg. Her work can be found here: https://apnews.com/search/joyce%20rosenberg

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