Tis the Holiday Party Season

The holiday party season is upon us. While workplace holiday parties are planned with the best intentions for good cheer and merriment, employers ought to consider the potential risks involved in hosting a holiday party and adopt strategies to reduce their risk.

In particular, employee intoxication can pose significant risk for employers. An intoxicated employee can cause reputational risk for an employer, or may engage in other inappropriate and unwelcome behaviour such as bullying, harassment or violence which may impact other employees and office morale. Beyond this, an employer may be held liable if an intoxicated employee causes injury to himself or to an innocent third party, during or after a workplace holiday party. Accordingly, employers are wise to put health and safety concerns at the top of their list this holiday season.

When planning your holiday party, consider the following strategies for promoting employee safety and minimizing employer liability:

  • Remind employees that the holiday party is a workplace event and that all workplace policies apply to their conduct, including your Code of Conduct, Bullying & Harassment Policy, Social Media Policy or other applicable policies;
  • Consider hosting an alcohol free event. If alcohol will be offered:
    • ensure that non-alcoholic beverages and food are readily available;
    • do not encourage or sanction binge drinking;
    • do not provide an open or unsupervised bar;
    • consider limiting the number of drinks offered to each employee;
    • consider hiring professional bartenders who are trained to monitor and regulate alcohol consumption.
  • Before your holiday party, inform your employees that drinking and driving will not be tolerated in any circumstances.  Make arrangements to help your employees arrive home safely and take time to communicate those arrangements to employees in advance. These arrangements may include
    • selecting a location that is close to public transit;
    • making taxi chits available to employees throughout the party, and/or offering to reimburse employees for taxi charges. If chits will be available, advise your employees how and when they can obtain one;
    • offering to compensate employees for overnight parking fees, and/or hotel accommodations, if necessary;
  • If any employees become intoxicated, be ready and willing to intervene to ensure they do not drive. This may include removing an employee’s car keys, driving an employee home, organizing a ride for an employee, contacting an employee’s spouse, or even calling the police if an employee refuses to cooperate.

From all of us at Harris & Company LLP, we wish you and your employees a happy and safe holiday season.