In Wake of Sexual Harassment Scandals, Companies Scale Back on Drinks at Holiday Parties

In Wake of Sexual Harassment Scandals, Companies Scale Back on Drinks at Holiday Parties

In response to a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against numerous men in the media and other high-profile industries, Vox Media, which fired its own editorial director last month for sexual harassment, announced to staff last Thursday that it would not have an open bar at its holiday party this year, the Huffington Post reported. By limiting the amount of alcohol available to employees at the party (they will now get two drink tickets instead), the company aims to discourage “unprofessional behavior” and avoid “creating an environment that encourages overconsumption”:

The move keeps in line with an earlier memo that Vox CEO Jim Bankoff sent to staffers on Nov. 3, which listed a number of initiatives aimed at improving Vox’s work culture. Among other efforts, Bankoff wrote that the company would be considering “tighter policies around alcoholic beverages at company events and meetings and generally ensuring work events and interactions meet the highest standard of professionalism.”

Vox Media is by no means the only company considering scaling back on the booze at their holiday event for this reason. The Associated Press’s Marley Jay takes a brief look at what companies are doing and why:

According to a survey by Chicago-based consulting company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, only 49 percent of companies plan to serve alcohol at their holiday events. Last year that number was 62 percent, the highest number in the decade the firm has run its survey. The number had been going up each year as the economy improved. …

A survey by Bloomberg Law said those kinds of safeguards are common: while most companies ask bartenders or security or even some employees to keep an eye on how much partygoers are drinking, others limit the number of free drinks or the time they’re available. A small minority have cash bars instead of an open bar. The National Federation of Independent Businesses recommends all of those steps, and adds another that might seem obvious these days: don’t hang mistletoe. It’s been giving those suggestions for several years.

Making the holiday party fun and safe for everyone while avoiding the liability of intoxicated employees is important every year, but with sexual misconduct looming so large in the public eye, this year’s holiday parties could be particularly risky for employers, as Bloomberg BNA’s Martin Berman-Gorvine notes. HR departments should be prepared for an increase in the number of sexual harassment complaints they receive in the coming months, several attorneys tell BNA, and that makes it particularly important to ensure that the holiday party doesn’t become a venue for employees’ bad decisions.

To that end, Brian Kropp, head of our HR research team at CEB, now Gartner, shares with the Wall Street Journal the story of one of our member companies, where HR employees have been advised to treat the holiday party as a work night and be prepared to police their colleagues’ behavior there. “They were told to go ahead and interrupt that conversation if they don’t like the looks of it,” Kropp said. “You’re going to be like a parental chaperone at a high school party. Let them dance together, but not too close.”