’Tis the Season: Holiday Tips for Employers


’Tis the Season: Holiday Tips for Employers

Date: November 13, 2018

With the holiday season just around the corner, many of us are preparing for the seasonal festivities, which may include workplace celebrations. It is important that employers, whether large or small, take proactive steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees who attend office parties or other workplace celebrations. In this FTR Now, we are pleased to bring you our annual checklist of potential measures to help plan a safe holiday celebration for all.

The Law on Employer Liability

Over the years, courts have signalled that employers face a risk of liability should an employee be permitted to drink too much at a work-related function. Accordingly, an employer must be aware of the potential for safety-related liability. For example, should an intoxicated employee drive home following a workplace party, the employer may face possible liability for any related injury to the employee or to an innocent third party.

Liability can also arise from the actions of an employee who becomes impaired at a workplace function and then engages in inappropriate behaviour. Inappropriate behaviour can include workplace sexual harassment, which has garnered significant media attention of late. Recent amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act impose obligations on employers to ensure that a workplace is free of harassment, which expressly includes “sexual harassment.” These obligations extend to workplace functions like seasonal festivities.

In 2013, an Alberta decision suggested that liability can arise at workplace functions even in the absence of an alcohol-related incident. The Alberta court found an employer liable for the death of an employee where the employer allowed its employees to operate faulty, rented equipment (a calf-roping machine) at a work-related function, without proper training or oversight.

With the legalization of recreational cannabis in October 2018, there may also be a concern with impairment from cannabis use during workplace functions. Employers should consider the rules and requirements they have established regarding cannabis use: workplace policies may specifically prohibit the use of recreational cannabis at work-related functions. It is important to make expectations clear regarding cannabis use at any workplace function and limit the risk of intoxication, of any kind, at a holiday celebration in the workplace.

Holiday Celebration Checklist

Prudent employers should take steps to provide all attendees with a safe and enjoyable environment, and to provide safe transportation options for returning home following the holiday celebration.

Safety Tips

  • When renting any kind of entertainment equipment or machinery, ensure that it is properly assembled, maintained and operated by trained and qualified staff. Better yet, hire a competent operator to set up and operate the equipment on your behalf.
  • Prior to the event, inform employees that all workplace rules and policies are in effect, including with respect to sexual harassment, harassment and workplace violence. Where applicable, remind them of any policies that prohibit cannabis use during work-related functions.

If your celebrations will include the consumption of alcohol, consider adopting the following safety-enhancing measures:

  • Prior to the event, inform employees that they are not to drink and drive, and remind them at the start and end of the event.
  • Provide a supervised limited bar and serve food.
  • Hire a trained third party (who can monitor consumption and/or impairment) to tend the bar and serve the drinks to employees and guests.
  • Close the bar an hour or more before the party ends.
  • Designate an appropriate employee to monitor employees’ alcohol consumption and to deal with circumstances in which an employee appears to be impaired and/or intoxicated.
  • Consider utilizing a ticket system to limit the number of drinks an employee or other guest may be served during the party.
  • Set up alternative transportation options for employees prior to the party, and be sure to communicate those options clearly to employees.
  • Provide taxi chits to employees, and do this at the outset of the event. Designate employees to proactively distribute additional chits as necessary.
  • Consider establishing carpools with designated drivers who agree not to drink at the event.
  • Assist in arranging for hotel rooms for employees who live far from the event, perhaps by arranging a reduced rate with a nearby hotel.

Even if employers take positive steps to limit impairment, there may be some employees who drink too much and become intoxicated. If that happens, take positive steps to ensure that the employee does not drive. For example:

  • Consider a system whereby employees leave their car keys with an attendant at the start of the evening to avoid the situation of having to remove keys from an intoxicated guest.
  • Arrange to have a sober co-worker drive the employee home. Alternatively, call the employee’s emergency contact. Don’t just offer to do so.
  • Insist that the employee take a cab, and pay for it.
  • If all else fails, and the employee insists on driving in an intoxicated state, call for police assistance.

By planning ahead of time, employers can help avoid many of the problems associated with excess alcohol consumption, and can help to ensure that an enjoyable and safe time is had by all.

We wish you and your employees an enjoyable and safe holiday season.

The article in this client update provides general information and should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. This publication is copyrighted by Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP and may not be photocopied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP. ©