Drunkenness at Office Parties: Where do we Draw the Line?

Drunkenness at office parties is something we’ve all experienced, but how far is too far and how do you avoid crossing that line? 

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Drunkenness at office parties is a rite of passage that all employees have to experience at some point in their career. Obviously, this is more difficult in the COVID-19 era, but hopefully office parties will make a resurgence once this is over.

When these office parties do come back, it’s good to know what the boundaries are around your drunkenness. This way, you can avoid professional misconduct, and the risk of potentially losing your job. 

In this post, we’re going to give you the stats on how many people actually get drunk at office parties, some tips on avoiding it, and how to notice when you’ve gone too far. We’ll then give you a brief rundown on what the actual law is around drunkenness at office parties. So, let’s dive right in…

How Many People Experience Drunkenness at Office Parties?

Before we get started on the do’s and don’ts, we’re going to share some interesting stats on drunkenness at office parties, so you know you’re not alone. The printing company, Cartridge People, conducted a survey to find out how many people embarrass themselves with their drunkenness at office Christmas parties. They found that:

  • 1 in 3 Britons embarrassed themselves on the dancefloor at an office party
  • 1 in 4 kissed a work colleague
  • 1 in 4 had to leave the party early because they were too intoxicated
  • 1 in 7 shouted at their boss
  • 1 in 10 used a photocopier inappropriately
  • 1 in 14 knowingly drunk drove at the party

If you’ve ever made any of these mistakes yourself, you’re amongst company, but some may say you’ve crossed a line. So, now that we’ve had a look at the stats, it’s time to give you some advice on how to avoid making these mistakes. 

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How to Avoid Drunkenness at Office Parties

Here are some quick tips on how to avoid getting too drunk at office parties in the first place.

Pace Yourself

Once you finally get the chance to let loose with your colleagues, it’s hard to hold back and keep your drinking down, especially if the companies paid for an open bar. But, just because there’s an open bar and you want to let your hair down with the people you sit in a stuffy office with all day, doesn’t mean you have to go crazy. If you just get a bit merry, you’re more likely to get to know your colleagues better than if you get so drunk you can barely get your words out. 

Don’t Give in to Peer Pressure

On that note, you’re going to feel a bit of peer pressure from your colleagues to drink. They might buy shots or keep getting rounds that you can’t avoid. But, just take your time and say no if you actually don’t want another drink.

If you feel like refusing drinks will make colleagues lose respect for you, buy yourself a water when it’s your round and claim it’s a vodka tonic. They’ll never know the difference and it’ll give you a sneaky breather.

Keep Track of What You’re Drinking

It’s all too easy to lose track of what you’ve drunk when everyone is buying each other shots and drinks. If you can keep a mental note of how much booze you’ve put in your body, you’ll have a better chance of sticking to your limit, assuming you’re aware of what that is. 

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How You Know You’ve Gone Too Far with Your Drunkenness

If the above fails, and you end up letting your drunkenness take over, it’s not the end of the world. The important thing is that you don’t cross any boundaries that might get you fired. So, here is a list of things you definitely shouldn’t do at your office party.

Acts of Violence

Most people get a little more aggressive when they get drunk, even if it’s just verbally. Some may even end up getting into fights and committing acts of violence. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s with a colleague, or with some person you’ve never seen before; if you get in a fight with someone at an office party it crosses a line. Ultimately, you could be written up for gross misconduct. 


Harassment is obviously a terrible idea no matter what situation you’re in, but in the same way drunkenness can make people more aggressive, it can also make them more sexual. 

From the stats we shared at the start of this post, 25 percent of people actually kiss a work colleague at an office party. You have to be 100 percent sure that the person you’re kissing wants it too, that they’re not too drunk to consent, or you will likely be sacked and might even face criminal charges. 

Taking Drugs

Again, this is something that’s illegal outside of office parties, but there are lots of situations where taking recreational drugs is the norm. 

This is not one of them.

If your boss catches you taking drugs at an office party, they might not call the police, but they will certainly reprimand or fire you for it. 

Loose Talk

Talking in a nasty way about other employees, especially to someone who has direct authority over them, will cause trouble for everyone. You could damage the reputation of a colleague, and make yourself seem like the kind of person no-one should confide in.

Also, for those of you who have a position of authority over someone else, making promises could be taken as a legally binding commitment. For example, saying to an employee that you plan to put them on the same salary as another colleague within two years could be taken as gospel. So, be careful what your loose, drunk tongue comes out with.

Serious Health and Safety Violations

If it’s your job to lock up the office and you’re too drunk to remember to do it, you’re going to land yourself in some hot water. 


If you come into the work drunk or hungover from the night before, to the point where you can’t actually do your job, then you might get a stern warning from your boss.

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What are the Actual Laws Around Drunkenness at Office Parties?

All the acts we’ve mentioned above fall under employment law, because these laws are applicable to office parties that take place outside the workplace and working hours. This means an employer can take disciplinary action against an employee who behaves badly during an office party because the conduct falls within the ‘course of employment’. 

Also, employers are likely to be quite strict when it comes to office parties because they can actually be held liable for the actions of their employees. So, if you decided to get into a fight or harass another employee, your employer might be held accountable for your actions in court. 

How do you Return to the Office After Drunkenness at a Party?

Now we know the line between harmless drunken fun and acting illegally or out of order at office parties. But how do you act at the office the next time you go in? 

One of the worst things you can do is pretend that nothing happened, and just ignore any of the crazy stuff you did at the office party. Most people have embarrassing moments at work, whether it’s in a meeting or at a party, so it’s best just to own up to them because we’ve all been there.

If it’s something quite serious, like harassment or a fight, you should apologise to everyone involved and make it clear to them, and your manager, that it was just the booze and you wouldn’t do anything like that if it weren’t for your drunkenness

Obviously, if you haven’t done anything too serious, don’t grovel on your hands and knees or dwell on what you did wrong. The best thing to do is keep your composure and try to laugh it off with some of your colleagues as it’s probably not as bad as you think. 

Ready to Face Your Next Office Party?

Today, we’ve talked about how often people make fools of themselves, and how to avoid getting too intoxicated at office parties. We’ve also discussed what counts as a bad action once you are drunk, and how to shake it off once you return to the office.

These things aren’t always cut and dry, but as long as you weren’t violent, harassing, taking drugs, failing your responsibilities or gossiping about your colleagues too much in your drunkenness, you should be fine.

If you did do something terribly wrong, own up to it and apologise to all involved. Hopefully now you know more than you did when you got here, and we’ll see you in the next post!

Annika Bansal

Annika "The Chick Geek" is the founder of AnnikaBansal.com. Small Business Sense shares small business ideas, tips and resources for independent Entrepreneurs and Small Business owners.