Alabama Employment Law Report
Holiday Parties: What Do They Mean For Employers and Employees?
Special thanks to my partner, Jim Sturdivant, who provided this entry as it pertains to criminal offenses. Among other things, Jim handles cases around the state of Alabama for clients who are arrested and charged with DUI.
Attending Holiday Parties and the consumption of alcoholic beverages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s offers increased opportunities to engage in risky behavior. The criminal penalties for DUI are steep, including up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,100. In addition, the person who is charged with DUI faces a suspension of their driving privileges for up to 90 days. This suspension can be imposed as a result of a conviction for DUI or can be administratively imposed prior to any conviction based upon either a refusal to perform a blood alcohol breath test or a person’s breath alcohol level being at .08% or higher.
In addition, the Alabama DUI statute has recently been amended to impose even more serious penalties upon any person who is convicted of having at least .15% or higher of alcohol in his blood while driving. Most notably, a person in such a situation convicted of a .15% or higher violation will stand to have their license revoked for a period of not less than one year. Further, an individual conviction under the so-called “super drunk” provision of the DUI statute will be required to provide an approved ignition interlock device for a period of two years from the date of the issuance of a driver’s license following such a revocation.
As if all that isn’t serious enough, anyone who has ever been “stopped” for DUI should know about another provision of Alabama law, which requires the Department of Public Safety to suspend a motorist’s driving privileges for one year if the person has had at least one “alcohol related contact” within the previous five years. See Alabama Code § 32-5A-304(b)(5). Note – a mere contact is sufficient. A conviction for this prior DUI charge is not required.
The bottom line is that if a person chooses to drink at a holiday gathering or event, they should do so very sparingly, if at all. The better practice is simply not to consume alcohol, or to consume a very, very small amount of alcohol, prior to driving a motor vehicle. The consequences of consuming more than one drink and driving a motor vehicle is just too risky for the individual.
Employers also need to be cautious during the Holiday Season. Holiday parties often create or increase the risks of inappropriate behavior, whether it is inappropriate dress, inappropriate dancing with co-workers, sexual harassment, assault and even wrongful death claims if an accident is caused by a driver who became intoxicated at the party. Arrests, EEOC charges and lawsuits can be the result. In order to cut down on the risk of liability, there are many things an employer can do. This includes:
Remind all employees of the company’s sexual harassment policy at work, including company sponsored parties.
Remind managers of their responsibility to enforce company policy at any company sponsored party
Have non-alcoholic beverages available for consumption
Train staff to recognize employees who may be intoxicated, and to not serve any more alcohol to them. Or hire a professional who is already trained to do this.
Pre-arrange for designated drivers or alternative transportation, taxis, busses, etc.
Stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the official end time of the party.
If a complaint is made, follow your policy, which should include a prompt, thorough and complete investigation, with appropriate disciplinary action if required.
This is a wonderful time of the year. Enjoy it, but be smart.
I hope all of you have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving.