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A Safe, Sober Holiday Message

Article for Union Publications

During the holiday season, employers and workers frequently get together to unwind and celebrate. Typically, these parties involve plenty of food and drinks. However, if the drinks include alcohol, there is potential for unfortunate consequences.

Whether alcohol is permitted at workplace parties or union-sponsored events is an individual decision for companies and/or unions to make. When alcohol is present, it makes good sense to take precautions to help prevent workers or guests from becoming intoxicated and to discourage impaired driving.*

Tips for Safe Celebrations

If unions or employers decide to provide or permit alcohol at a workplace party or union function, they can take steps to help ensure a safe and sober holiday party season – while still creating an enjoyable and festive atmosphere. The following are some ways to minimize potential negative repercussions.


Be honest with workers. Make sure members know their union’s and/or employer’s drug-free workplace policy and how it addresses alcohol use in work-related situations or while representing the union.

Post the policy.Use different communication vehicles to ensure workers understand the policy. Prior to a party, use union bulletin boards and/or, e-mail to publicize the policy and any rules specific to alcohol use.

Reinvent the party concept. Why have a "traditional” party? Consider trying something new like an indoor carnival, amusement park outing or volunteer activity.

Make it a party of choice. Always make plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available.

Make sure workers know when to say when. When alcohol is served at an event, make sure all members know that they are welcome to attend and have fun, but are expected to act responsibly.

Eat...and be merry! Avoid serving only salty, greasy or sweet foods, which make people thirsty. Serve foods rich in starch and protein, which stay in the stomach longer and slow the bloodstream’s absorption of alcohol.

Designate party managers. Remind supervisors and shop stewards that even at a party, they may need to ensure that everyone adheres to their drug- and alcohol-free workplace policy.

Arrange alternative transportation. Anticipate the need for alternative transportation for all party goers and make arrangements in advance. Encourage members to make use of available alternatives, such as designated drivers, if they consume alcohol.

Serve none for the road. Stop serving alcohol before the party officially ends.

*Although commonly used, the phrase "drunk driving” is not a legal term. Rather, "impaired driving” is used because it better describes the realities of drinking and driving—when someone consumes alcohol, even at low levels, his/her ability to drive is impaired even though there may be no obvious signs of drunkenness.

Consult Applicable State Laws

Remember, if alcohol is provided at a workplace or union function, state laws regarding its use and the resulting legal responsibilities should be consulted. In addition to the safety concerns, improper alcohol use can expose businesses, and possibly even unions, to civil liability under tort laws. For example, a business may be held liable if a person consumes alcohol at a company-sponsored party and subsequently causes an accident or injury.

Keeping the Workforce Safe All Year Round

While the holidays serve to remind us about the perils of impaired driving, unions have a vested interest in keeping their members safe all year round. After all, accidents and injuries to members, whether on or off the job, impact worker availability as well as union health and welfare funds through increased utilization of health benefits. So encouraging safety before, after and, especially, during work makes good sense.

Drug-free workplace programs provide effective channels for sending messages to workers about drug- and alcohol-related dangers – including impaired driving. Messages can be incorporated into regular worker education sessions, union newsletters or displays.

For those organizations that do not have a drug-free workplace program, the Department of Labor’s Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workplace Web site is a valuable resource that offers guidance on developing one. The site also features regularly updated information about impaired driving, such as alcohol traffic safety facts, related statistics and prevention initiatives employers can support.

Remember, safe roads and workplaces are everyone’s business. This holiday season, and all year long, employers are encouraged to send workers a safe and sober message about workplaces and drinking.