Canada: Party On (Responsibly), Wayne!

Suddenly it's December and excitement is building for workplace holiday parties. As much as we all love a good office rager, there are some important considerations employers should bear in mind when hosting holiday parties. While nobody likes a buzz-kill, there are some strategies employers should adopt to reduce the potential risks flowing from workplace parties. Think of these risk-minimizing steps as the employer equivalent of hiding the breakables at your parents' house before your high-school party gets out of hand.

The biggest office-party risks are employee intoxication. An employee who has had too much to drink might behave in an unwelcome or inappropriate manner towards his or her coworkers. This kind of conduct can impact morale at the workplace, or can even put the employer at risk of a bullying and harassment complaint. An employer might also be held liable if an employee who over-indulged at a holiday party is injured or injures someone else.

To maximize employee safety, and minimize employer risk, we recommend incorporating some of the following steps into your party-planning process:

Before the Party

Remind employees that the party is a workplace event and, as a workplace event, all employer policies continue to apply. This includes policies such as the Employee Code of Conduct, Social Media Policy, Bullying + Anti-harassment Policy, or any other applicable workplace policies.

Tell employees that drinking and driving will not be tolerated. Be proactive and make arrangements to help get employees home after the party and tell your employees about those arrangements before the party. For example, you might:

  • provide taxi vouchers to employees at the party;
  • offer to reimburse employees for any taxi fees;
  • plan the party at a location that is close to public transit;
  • hire a bus or limo service; or
  • offer to pay for overnight parking and or arrange for discounted hotel accommodation.

At the Party

If you're hosting an event where alcohol will be available:

  • don't encourage binge drinking;
  • plan to provide non-alcoholic beverages;
  • plan to provide food;
  • don't provide unsupervised access to drinks;
  • think about limiting the number of drinks each employee can have and provide drink tickets to ensure employees don't exceed their allotted drinks; and
  • consider bringing in someone who is certified to monitor and regulate alcohol consumption, such as bartender or a waiter.

After the Party

Don't hesitate to intervene if you notice that an employee has become intoxicated. Ensure that any such employees are not permitted to drive. This may include taking an employee's car keys, organizing a ride for that employee, driving that employee home, or even contacting the employee's partner or the police if the employee refuses to cooperate with you.

Bonus Tips from Our Party Planner!

If you don't even know where to begin with planning a party, here are some tips from our very own party planner extraordinaire, Natalie Foley:

"It's important to remember that the festive season can be a sensitive time for some employees, especially those who don't live near their family and close friends.  An office Christmas party may raise emotions and heighten feelings of loneliness.  Be sure to make the party inclusive of everyone, especially if employees' significant others are invited – you want them to feel welcome too. Avoid making "in jokes" or long boring speeches they won't relate to.  Remind everyone to embrace life – it's a social opportunity to say hello to someone you don't normally talk to, so make the most of it.

During the planning phase, I've found it helpful to:

  1. ask for help from other employees in the company – a team effort can ensure you cover all bases;
  2. provide a list of food allergies and preferences to the restaurant in advance – include spouses;
  3. make it easy for employees to pass on all the details (location, time, what to wear etc.) of the party to their spouses well in advance – the more details the better – trust me: it will save you from being flooded with the same questions;
  4. send reminders leading up to the event – get everyone excited;
  5. remind the big kahuna to prepare a short welcome speech – nothing beats finding out your boss is grateful for you, your family and your hard work;
  6. book a photographer or ask for everyone to take and upload photos during the night;
  7. add an element of humour – an award ceremony, a skit, or go big and try the mannequin challenge; and
  8. always be prepared for last minute requests and changes!

Apart from that, make the party a little different each year.  Tradition is great but there are also benefits to reap by going to a new location or doing something new.

Whatever happens, watch the new movie 'Office Christmas Party' or at least watch the trailer if you need any other tips on what not to do!"

Miller Titerle + Co. wishes you and your employees the happiest of holidays and the best (responsible) office holiday party ever. Party on (responsibly), Garth!

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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