Social Hosting: Tips for Your Company Party (Now With Cannabis!)

November 13, 2018

Social Hosting: Tips for Your Company Party (Now With Cannabis!)

It’s that time again: time to look at what you can do to make sure your company’s holiday party is both fun and safe.  These tips apply year-round, but with the increased number of social events at the end of the year, now is a good time for a refresher.  This year, for the first time, we need to consider legalized recreational cannabis too!

1) Cannabis

Being the new kid on the block, cannabis is getting a lot of attention from employers.  When hosting a social event employers should not only consider alcohol and cannabis, but other intoxicants that could be affecting party-goers too.

Because the only legalized recreational cannabis being sold (starting October 17, 2018) this year is in a combustible (smokable) form, many Canadians presume that the rules around smoking in public, or other municipal limitations on smoking cannabis will apply and effectively limit cannabis consumption.  Calgary’s rules 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, as long as organic solvents are not used to create concentrated products.

Being alert to party guests becoming intoxicated by non-obvious means will help make sure everyone stays safe.

2) 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 risk [1].  

If the company or any personnel are hosting a company event, both 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.

3) Employer Host Liability

Employers can be found liable for events (such as injuries arising from vehicle collisions) occurring as a result of negligently serving alcohol [2].  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.

Although we do not recommend it, if you are considering providing cannabis to employees in any form under the sharing allowances in the new cannabis laws, then there are a large number of issues to be considered including the requirements on standardized serving sizes and potency, prohibitions on the use of certain ingredients, production practices, and restrictions on promotional activities.  Working with legal counsel before providing employees with cannabis is strongly recommended.

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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

6) Recommended Steps

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

  • hire professional bartenders with Pro-Serve training;
  • 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.

If you have any questions, please contact the 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)