Hosting a holiday party for your employees is a great way to
thank them for their hard work throughout the year. However,
holiday parties that get out of control or are not reflective of
your workforce's ethnic diversity can create unforeseen
liabilities, particularly where alcohol is involved. As
a "best practice", the following suggestions will assist
your organization in planning and holding a safe and inclusive
Hold an alcohol-free event. This is the lowest-risk option for
If you decide to provide alcohol at the event, speak to
employees before the event about the risks of over-drinking. In
addition to the issue of alcohol, employees should also be reminded
that this is a workplace function and they are expected to behave
in a way that is not harassing, discriminatory, intimidating or
Holding a morning (brunch) event rather than an evening event
where alcohol is served may reduce the consumption of alcohol.
Do not provide free and open access to alcohol.
Provide non-alcoholic drinks as an option.
Avoid serving alcohol if your event includes physical
activities, or serve the alcohol after the physical event is
Do not serve alcoholic beverages to under-aged employees or
employees who are already visibly intoxicated.
Have food available throughout the party, and accommodate
Provide alternative transportation for employees (i.e. taxi
chits). Encourage employees before the event to leave their
vehicles at home and take advantage of the alternative
transportation you are providing to get to and from the event.
Arrange for a nearby hotel to have rooms available for
employees who are unable to get home.
Stop serving alcoholic beverages at least an hour before the
party is over.
Be respectful of the different cultural and belief systems
among your employees when planning your event. Make sure the
date of your event, your menu and activities reflect your
workforce's religious and ethnic diversity.
Where your workforce is culturally diverse, consider creating a
holiday planning committee of representative employees to plan your
event, and plan your event around the many religious holidays being
celebrated around this time.
Consider inviting your employees' family to accommodate
those who may be unable to leave young children at home.
Allow employees to opt out of your holiday event without a
consequence or negative connotation.
Make sure the venue is accessible to those attending your
The Law on Social Host Liability
In 2006 the Supreme Court of Canada weighed in and confirmed
that a social host of a party, unlike a commercial host such as a
bar or restaurant, does not owe a duty of care to guests or third
parties such that they would be required to prevent a guest from
driving in an intoxicated state. In Childs v. Desormeaux
("Childs"), the defendants hosted a New
Year's Eve party. After consuming alcohol at the party, a guest
was involved in a head-on collision that killed one passenger in
another vehicle and seriously injured three others, including the
plaintiff. The plaintiff sued the driver, the hosts of the party
and their home insurer.
The Supreme Court found that the party hosts could not
reasonably foresee the accident and the plaintiff's injury and
in any case had no duty to act. Social hosts do not have such
a duty, unless they are in a situation where they can foresee harm
to guests and their relationship to their guests falls into one of
the following three categories:
the social host invites guests to participate in an inherent
risky or dangerous activity that the host creates or controls;
there is a relationship of supervision or control between the
host and the guest; and,
the host exercises a public function or engages in a commercial
Although in Childs the Supreme Court did not address
the potential obligations on employers when providing alcohol to
employees at work functions, the decision suggests that employers
are likely to be held to a higher standard than social hosts when
alcohol is served at company-sponsored events. Employers may
require employees to attend holiday parties, are required to
maintain a safe working environment for employees and are in more
of a relationship of supervision or control with employees than
mere social hosts might be. As a result, employers may have a duty
to protect employees who are intoxicated and third parties who may
be injured by employees.
Wishing you and your employees a safe and festive Holiday
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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