The holiday season is here once again, and this year everyone is ready to celebrate things being (mostly) back to normal. We are expecting renewed excitement around the office, with employees looking forward to a chance to dress up, go out, and cut loose. However, as much as we all love a good office party, they don't come without risks.
For those choosing to host a holiday party in person, one of the biggest risks is employee intoxication. An employee who has had too much to drink might behave in an unwelcome or inappropriate manner towards their coworkers. This kind of conduct can impact morale at the workplace and can easily lead to bullying and harassment complaints. 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 such, all employer policies continue to apply. This includes policies such as the Employee Code of Conduct, Social Media Policy, Anti-Bullying/Harassment Policy, COVID-19 Policy, and other applicable workplace policies.
Make it clear to 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 ride vouchers to employees at the party;
- offer to reimburse employees for any taxi or ride-sharing 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.
Starting November 17, BC lifted the requirement that people who have COVID-19 must self-isolate. However, it is important to remind employees that they should still stay home if they have symptoms and that workplace-specific policies still apply.
At the Party
If you're hosting an event where alcohol will be available:
- discourage binge drinking;
- provide non-alcoholic beverages;
- provide food;
- restrict unsupervised access to drinks;
- consider limiting the number of drinks each employee can have and provide drink tickets to ensure employees don't exceed their allotted drinks;
- consider bringing in someone who is certified to monitor and regulate alcohol consumption, such as a bartender or a waiter; and
- consider having a sober support person available.
Additionally, ensure that attendees remain in compliance with workplace policies.
After the Party
Don't hesitate to intervene if you notice that an employee has become intoxicated before leaving and may put themselves or others at risk. 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.
Virtual Events and Accommodation
If your workplace has shifted to a fully remote or hybrid model, consider hosting a virtual event over Zoom or another videoconferencing platform as an alternative to the traditional in-person office party. With delivered food and/or drink options, this can still be a fun experience for employees to gather and form valuable workplace connections and relationships. Many such platforms have integrated online games and features which allow you and your team to interact beyond simply the bland "boardroom" style meeting. Finally, if you do choose to host a holiday party in person, consider setting up a videoconferencing link to allow employees who are unable to attend to participate virtually.
Whether or not you choose to host a party this year, Miller Titerle + Co. wishes you and your employees the happiest of holidays!
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.