Many people look forward to the annual holiday party at work. It is a chance to socialize with work colleagues in a relaxed, fun environment. While these can be thoroughly enjoyable events, they also hold pitfalls for both employees and employers, especially if alcohol is served.
In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that social hosts are not liable if a guest drinks alcohol, drives and injures or kills someone, unless they actively contribute to the person’s intoxication. This means that if a host knows someone is intoxicated and continues to serve them alcohol, they may be liable if that person drives and injures someone.
For an office party, the standards of liability are even more strict. Both company and the venue are both liable in that situation. And if an employee drinks too much and conducts himself in a way that is not consistent with company policies, such as by harassing fellow employees or with racist or sexist behaviour, they can still be held responsible for their conduct, and fired from their position.
Employers can minimize their risk of liability by following a few best practices if they are serving alcohol at the company party.
Hire professional bartenders, since they are trained on how to identify people who are intoxicated, and how to handle them.
Avoid having an open bar (you can provide guests with a few drink tickets) and offer plenty of non-alcoholic beverages.
Serve food at all times when alcohol is being served, and cut off serving alcohol before the end of the party. End the evening with coffee instead.
Provide taxi vouchers to any guest who requires one.
If you suspect that an employee may attempt to drive while intoxicated, you must do as much as possible to prevent that from happening.
Offer an alternative means of transportation, whether it’s a taxi or a ride with a colleague.
Take away the person’s car keys.
Provide a hotel room.
As a last resort, if the employee attempts to drive home, call the police.