With the holiday season upon us, Fraser Milner Casgrain wishes
to remind you of employer best practices for making your company
celebrations a success. In addition to creating an atmosphere where
employees can enjoy a well-deserved measure of 'holiday
cheer', it is equally important to take steps to ensure they
arrive home safe and sound. In keeping with an employer's
general obligation to take reasonable steps to protect the safety
of employees, the standard of care owed by an employer when serving
alcohol is significantly increased.
Two leading cases dealing with 'employer-host liability'
are Hunt v. Sutton Group (2002), 60 O.R. (3d) 665
(Ont. C.A.) and Jacobsen v. Nike Canada Ltd.
(1996), 19 B.C.L.R. (3d) 63 (B.C.S.C.). Both involved employees who
were seriously injured in motor vehicle collisions after consuming
alcohol in association with company-sponsored events. By making
alcohol available, the courts in both cases found their employers
had raised the benchmark to protect the employees from common risks
associated with alcohol-impairment, particularly with regard to
post-event transportation. In the unfortunate event that an
employee is involved in an alcohol-related accident and such
reasonable efforts cannot be demonstrated, an employer runs a
significant risk of being found liable for personal injury damages.
In the Jacobson case for example, a court awarded a judgment of 2.7
million dollars to a young warehouseman who was rendered a
quadriplegic following a motor vehicle accident. His employer,
which had made alcohol available to him during his shift, was held
75% liable for failing to ensure his safe transportation home.
In light of such decisions, at a minimum, employers are
Monitor the amount of alcohol consumed by their employees at
company events; and
Take positive steps to prevent employees from driving home
The following sets out some practical steps employers may
consider when event-planning:
Prior to the event, post a reminder to employees that
attendance is voluntary. Remind them of the shared obligation to
drink responsibly and never to drink and drive. Offer to reimburse
employees for cab fare and/or make taxi chits widely
Consider holding the event at a public facility.
Hire professional bartenders and clearly instruct them not to
serve employees who appear to be intoxicated.
Develop a system to monitor employees' alcohol consumption
and take positive steps to track how much employees are drinking,
such as providing a limited number of drink tickets. Do not provide
an open or unsupervised bar.
Provide a wide range of non-alcoholic beverage choices and only
serve alcohol when serving food. Cease alcohol service at least two
hours before the event ends.
Arrange to have security monitor employees as they are leaving
the event. For those employees suspected of being intoxicated,
insist on retaining their car keys and arrange for a taxi ride home
or overnight accommodation.
While there is no guaranteed formula to ensure that employees
will always drink responsibly, a proper combination of the above
measures should help to minimize employer liability while making
your holiday events fun and safe!
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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