The holiday season is here once again, and for the second year in a row employers are faced with the question of whether or not to host a workplace holiday party. With bars and restaurants opening back up, it seems to be the perfect opportunity to meet that employee you hired last year over Zoom, in person. However, as much as we all love a good officer rager, there are some strategies employers should adopt to reduce the potential risks flowing from workplace parties.
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 his or her coworkers. This kind of conduct can impact morale at the workplace and can easily put an employer at risk of a bullying and/or 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, Anti-Bullying/Harassment Policy, COVID-19 Policy and other applicable workplace policies.
Be sure it is 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.
Additionally, it's important for all employers to continue to abide with public health orders including restrictions on organized gatherings and to remind employees to stay home if the employee or a member of their immediate household:
- have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are waiting for the results of a lab test for COVID-19;
- have been in close contact with someone who has or is suspected to have COVID-19;
- have been instructed to quarantine or self-isolate; or
- feel sick or have any symptoms of COVID-19, even if mild.
For updated information regarding COVID-19 protocols, visit British Columbia's website on Provincial and Regional Restrictions.
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; and
- consider bringing in someone who is certified to monitor and regulate alcohol consumption, such as bartender or a waiter.
Additionally, ensure that attendees remain in compliance with workplace policies and COVID-19 restrictions.
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
As an alternative to the traditional in-person office party, consider hosting a virtual event over Zoom or another videoconferencing platform. With delivered food and/or drink options, this can still be a fun experience for employees to gather and have a couple of drinks, break bread, and commiserate from the comfort and safety of their own homes. Many such platforms have integrated online games and features such as breakout rooms 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.
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.