We are gearing up for holiday party season, with numerous
parties and events meant to boost employee morale and give everyone
an opportunity to socialize and celebrate the holidays. Everyone
has a story about that time someone did something inappropriate at
a work holiday party and, in some cases, look forward to the event
in the hopes that someone does engage in improprieties. Besides
resulting in a "career limiting move," these incidents
greatly increase the risk of liability for an employer who hosted
It's easy for everyone to forget that the law considers holiday
parties to be "work-related" and to take place in the
"workplace," even if the event is held offsite at a
restaurant, bar, house, or other venue. It is not uncommon for
harassment claims to arise in the New Year following the actions of
an employee who had too much to drink or simply let him or herself
forget that they are among colleagues and not out with friends on
When planning your holiday function, it's crucial to remember
that the employer: a) is liable for the actions of its employees;
and b) has a legal obligation to ensure a safe and healthful
workplace, as well as a workplace free from harassment. You must
keep these obligations in mind when planning your events. Failure
to do so can result in very costly legal claims and reputational
To that end, we provide some tips and considerations for your
Host an alcohol-free daytime event,
such as a catered lunch at the workplace.
Invite employees' spouses, or
host a family-friendly event with employees' spouses and
If hosting an event with alcohol,
limit the number of alcoholic drinks per person (using a drink
ticket system), or have a cash bar.
Ensure all servers and bartenders you
hire are properly trained by the Smart Serve Training Program (https://www.smartserve.ca).
Control the alcohol: don't be
afraid to close the bar or cut off an employee if it appears that
the employee is intoxicated.
Prior to the event, remind employees
that all workplace policies apply to the holiday party, including
your policies against workplace harassment, violence, and
For your managers and supervisory
employees: prior to the event, ensure they understand the
company's policy on alcohol for the event and that they are
expected to enforce it if necessary. If necessary, consider doing
refresher training on your company's policies against workplace
harassment, violence, and safety.
Ensure everyone gets home safely by
providing taxi chits to limit the risk of any employee driving
under the influence.
Review any entertainment, shows, or
presentations in advance for appropriate content.
Vet the event space for accessibility
issues, ensuring all employees have the opportunity to attend and
The Cassels Brock & Blackwell's Employment and Labour
Group wishes you a happy and safe holiday season.
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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