Are you Ready for Your Holiday Party?

December 10, 2019

Holiday Party Liability

Authors: Dylan Snowdon and Shale Anderson

Are you Ready for Your Holiday Party?

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As we approach the holiday season, it is important that employers reflect on what can be done to ensure their holiday party is fun, safe, and enjoyable. Employers should be aware of all safety-related liabilities that can exist and host holiday events with the prioritization of employees’ safety in mind. These tips apply year-round, but with the increased number of events this time of the year, now is a great time for a refresher.

Social Host Liability

Canadian law says that a party host who serves alcohol is not under a duty of care to members of the public who may be injured by a guest’s actions, unless the host’s conduct implicates them in the creation or exacerbation of the risk1.

If the company or any personnel are hosting a company event, the host and the company could be found liable for actions of intoxicated guests at or after the party. Managers and executives should be aware that hosting an event where staff are present could mean that they are, in the eyes of the court, hosting a company event; even if people attending brought their own alcohol or cannabis.

Lessons for Employers

Office parties can be a great way to boost morale and involve family members in a social setting but employers need to be alert to, and address, risks that come with social events.

Employers are most likely to be found liable as a social host when they:

  • provide alcohol to employees;
  • are aware of intoxication; and
  • fail to take sufficient steps to prevent the employee from suffering harm.

Be alert to the possibility of intoxicating substances being used by guests during the party regardless of the alcohol controls in place and ensure safe transportation is made available to all.

Employer Host Liability

Employers can be found liable for events occurring as a result of the negligent service of alcohol2. When serving alcohol, an employer must take steps to ensure employees are not over-served and to ensure safe transportation is made available to get employees home. If you think an employee may attempt to drive a vehicle in an intoxicated state, consider taking the following steps:

  • provide alternative means of transportation;
  • take away the employee’s car keys;
  • provide hotel or other accommodations for the employee; and/or
  • if the employee refuses your assistance and attempts to drive home, call the police.

Recommended Steps

Employers can minimize risk by following best practices when hosting a company party where alcohol is served:

  • hire professional bartenders with Pro-Serve training;
  • appoint a designated safety warden for the event;
  • provide non-alcoholic beverage options;
  • do not allow guests to bring outside food or drink;
  • provide guests with a limited number of drink tickets;
  • ensure food is served at all times when alcohol is available;
  • provide taxi vouchers or confirm reimbursement of travel expenses;
  • set a specific time where the work function officially ends; and
  • promote responsible drinking.

Policies

If you have a Fit for Work or Drug and Alcohol policy, it is important to ensure that the policy has an allowance for employees to consume alcohol at the company party. If the policy forbids consumption of alcohol at any company event then you must either decide that your party will be dry or look at including an exception for identified social events.

Cannabis

Being relatively new, the legal presence of cannabis is getting a lot of attention from employers. Calgary’s rules governing cannabis consumption are found here, but each municipality sets its own local consumption rules. It’s important to remember that once purchased, it is perfectly legal for individuals to use their cannabis to make cannabis products, such as food and drinks. Edible cannabis products are also becoming available commercially in Canada this month, getting attention in the news, and potentially arriving at parties or other social events.  All cannabis products are sold in plain packaging. Being alert to party guests bringing their own intoxicants or becoming intoxicated by non-obvious means will help employers in making sure everyone stays safe.

If you have any questions, please contact the Employment Lawyers at Carbert Waite to help you manage your social functions safely.

[1]  Childs v Desormeaux, 2006 SCC 18.
[2] Jacobsen v Nike Canada Ltd.,1996 Can LII 3429 (BCSC)Hunt v Sutton Group Incentive Realty Inc.,2001 Can LII 28027 (ON SC)