Drunk at the company holiday party

Dear Ken,

My company has been closed for almost two weeks, and we start back up on Monday,
Jan. 4.

After the last day of business, we had our company holiday party.

Unfortunately, some of the employees, including myself, had too much to drink. People did, and said, some pretty stupid things. No one got physically hurt and everyone made it home safely.

I need to face the music on Monday morning over my behaviors and words at the party, and there may be a need to address other things done and said that were inappropriate by others.

How do you recommend I deal with this? It has been eating at me since the morning after the party.

Paul M.


Dear Paul,

What I am getting from your message is that you are ashamed of your behavior and what you said at a company event.

As far as you know, those attending the party arrived home safely, but you do not know what, if any, behaviors and words were said at a company event that could have longer-lasting, legal and other implications for you, your employees or your company.

My first piece of advice is that you immediately (as in, you should have done this the morning after the event) bring in an employment attorney who will provide you with legal counsel on this matter going forward.

This attorney will need to work with you to craft an apology to your employees on your behalf. How it is to be delivered will need to be determined.

The attorney is likely going to recommend an investigation to see if any sort of unwanted harassment took place before, during or after the event. Once this is completed, you will be advised of liabilities that surfaced and be provided a course of action to follow.

The idea of having some sort of celebration at the end of the work year is not a bad idea in and of itself.

Here are some key takeaways that you should consider in planning events like this in the future:

1. Lunchtime events are always more appropriate for a business than an after-work celebration, because an event held after work hours insinuates a party.

2. You should always invite outside guests to your company events: your accountant, your key vendors, some key clients and legal counsel. These folks will show up in business attire to support you and your company, and their presence will send the message that this is a professional event.

3. No alcohol should ever be served at a company event, for the reasons you learned and for the additional reasons your new employment attorney will be sharing with you.

4. You should speak only from prepared remarks and never wing it in front of your employees and key stakeholders.

5. Know that everyone takes their cues from how the leader acts; actions do speak much louder than words, and remember that everyone is watching the boss even when you do not think they are.

Everyone will remember the 2015 holiday celebration you just had. It will forever be seared into the memories of those present (well, those sober enough to remember).

Your reputation has taken a big hit, and hopefully, it will recover over time with the guidance of legal counsel.

But you are not out of the woods by a long shot.