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The intoxicated holiday party employee: Avoiding social host liability

With the Holiday Season in full gear, employers across the country are planning holiday parties and holiday parties often involve alcohol. This article provides a reminder on Social Host liability whereby employers could become liable for the injuries caused by intoxicated employees to themselves or others during the function or after they have left the function if proper safeguards are not put in place.

Social Host liability has been recognized in Canadian employment law for years and it imposes a duty of care upon employers to take steps to make sure that if alcohol is provided, employees do not do harm to themselves or others at employer events. Social Host liability typically arises when an employer hosts a party either at its office or at someone’s house and alcohol is provided to the employees who attend the party.

Each case is decided on its own facts and whether there was a sufficient duty of care. Canadian courts have held that employers do owe their employees the right to a safe workplace which will extend to the holiday party. Consequently, if an employee injures him/herself in a motor vehicle accident or injures a third party, the employer can become liable if the employer knew the employee was intoxicated, the employer failed to take any steps to prevent the intoxicated employee from causing the accident and the accident was reasonably foreseeable.

In order to minimize the chances of Social Host liability, employers should consider the following steps:

  1. Consider making the social event alcohol free in the first place to avoid any potential Social Host liability
  2. If alcohol is to be served, promote responsible drinking and ensure procedures are in place to monitor how much alcohol is provided to each employee and avoid a situation where an employee consumes too much alcohol. This means avoid an open bar and take active steps to monitor alcohol consumption
  3. Make sure to provide a safe way for employees to return home. This can be easily accomplished by providing free taxi rides home
  4. Hold the party at a hotel with free rooms or a licensed establishment with staff trained in serving alcohol
  5. Make sure your company has proper insurance in place before the event

Simon Heath
Principal of Heath Law, Employment Lawyers

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Simon Heath

Employment Lawyer and principal at Heath Law, Employment Lawyers
Simon Heath, BA, MIR, LLB, is the Principal of Heath Law, Employment Lawyers in Mississauga, Ontario. Simon represents both public and private-sector employers and employees (unionized and non-unionized) at all stages of the employment relationship with a focus in the areas of employment law, labour law and human rights law; these representations are made at all levels of courts and all administrative tribunals. Read more
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