Holiday party season is upon us and, this year, that means a return to in-person festivities. It is important that employers take proactive steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees who attend office holiday parties. If a holiday party gets out of control, it can create unforeseen liabilities – particularly where alcohol or other intoxicants are involved.
The Law on Host Liability
Employers can be liable where their guests – whether or not they are employees – engage in any violent or harassing conduct, including sexual harassment, at a holiday party. Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act holds employers responsible to take measures to prevent workplace harassment and that obligation extends to work social functions such as a holiday party. Liability can also arise if an intoxicated guest is permitted to drive home after the workplace party and injury results to that individual or a third party.
It is important to make expectations clear regarding the consumption of alcohol or other legal intoxicants and limit the risk of intoxication, of any kind, at a holiday celebration in the workplace.
If your holiday party will include the consumption of alcohol or other legal intoxicants, consider the following “best practices” to avoid liability and ensure a safe event for all attendees:
1. Host a refresher on workplace policies, including importantly your harassment and violence policy, drug and alcohol policy, and social media policy, well in advance of the holiday event.
2. Prior to the event, set up alternative transportation options for employees and ensure that the available options are clearly communicated to all employees.
3. Assist in arranging for hotel rooms for employees who live far from the event, perhaps by arranging a reduced rate with a nearby hotel.
4. Hire a trained bartender to monitor consumption and impairment.
5. Provide a limited bar and ensure food is served.
6. Stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the event ends.
By planning in advance, employers can avoid many of the problems associated holiday party intoxication and can help to ensure that an enjoyable and safe time is had by all.
Although at the time of this publication public health guidelines do allow for in-person celebrations, it is nevertheless to be mindful of the risk posed by COVID-19 when planning a holiday party. Since a holiday party is effectively an extension of the workplace, employers should ensure that their party protocols are consistent with any existing workplace policies and current public health guidelines.
On behalf the SV Law Employment Law team, we wish you and your employees a safe and festive Holiday Season!
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and is not legal advice. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your specific circumstance.