Melissa Kennedy is a labour relations, employment and human
resources specialist who assists clients with proactively managing
compliance, risk and ensuring best practices are in place.
With the holiday season fast approaching, many organizations are
in the midst of planning their annual holiday parties, meant to
recognize the culmination of a year of hard work by employees and
celebrate the holiday season. Although this time of year is marked
with celebration and provides for a valuable team building
opportunity, it can also bring with it particular obligations and
potential liabilities for an employer.
When planning and hosting a holiday party, there are a number of
factors that an organization must consider in order to reduce
liabilities and take every precaution reasonable to ensure the
health, safety and protection of its employees. These include:
1. Alcohol Consumption
The over-consumption of alcohol can lead to a number of
unfavourable outcomes; accordingly, it is important to limit the
in-take of alcohol by guests. This can be achieved by setting a
fixed period of time where alcohol will be served; restricting the
types of alcohol that are served (e.g. serving wine and beer
options, excluding spirits or hard liquor); and/or providing a
controlled number of drink tickets per guest.
Ensuring that there are transportation options available to
employees, following the conclusion of a holiday party is very
important, especially where alcohol has been served. A good
practice is to pre-arrange transportation with a local taxi
company, either by ensuring that there are taxis on standby and/or
providing taxi chits to employees following the conclusion of the
event. In some cities there are designated driver services
available whereby a licensed operator will drive an individual and
their vehicle home when they are unable to drive themselves.
Given the abundance of faiths, religious denominations and
practices that an organization's employees may affiliate
themselves with, it is important to ensure that holiday parties
remain non-denominational in nature. This will ensure that no
employee is made to feel excluded and will eliminate the likelihood
of a Human Rights violation and subsequent claim.
Where alcohol is being consumed, there is an increased risk of
inappropriate behaviour by individuals. In order to remind
employees of expectations regarding mutual respect, it is good
practice to distribute a copy of the organization's
anti-harassment policy well in advance of the holiday party. This
will ensure that employees are mindful of their actions towards
others while in attendance. Including a copy of the organization's dress code may also be
worthwhile, reminding employees that expectations for appropriate
attire in the workplace remain unchanged.
5. Communication & Monitoring
Transparent and consistent communication of expectations
surrounding alcohol consumption, appropriate behaviour and suitable
attire, well in advance of the holiday party, will ensure that
employees are aware of their responsibilities. Providing details
about transportation options prior to the holiday party, will
afford employees with the opportunity to arrange their journey home
safely and without setback.
Moreover, assigning one or two individuals from the organization
with the responsibility to monitor guests' behaviour and
alcohol consumption, and ensure that they obtain appropriate
transportation home, will further safeguard employees and reduce
the organization's liabilities.
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