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Employer holiday parties: some useful tips

holiday-partiesHowever limited an organization’s party budget is, most of them still use the holiday season to show their employees their appreciation for their year-long efforts by holding a holiday party on or off company premises. In the last several years, however, many organizations have looked carefully at how they approach the annual holiday party, for legal and economical reasons.

Employers are trying to find cost-effective ways to say “thank you” and build morale. Some have turned to the holiday lunch on December 24 instead of planning for an evening event. No matter the format or the cost, there are legitimate issues to be considered: what kind of non-religious holiday celebrations should organizations provide? What are the legal implications involved in holiday parties, particularly in regard to the use of alcohol?

Employers need to be responsible, inclusive and aware.

Companies can be liable if an employee has an accident after drinking at a holiday party. Employers also need to be sensitive to the diverse backgrounds and beliefs in their workplaces. And they should remember that liability for sexual and other types of harassment doesn’t stop at the office.

Moreover, employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. One important point to remember is that the law imposes a duty of care on employers to provide a safe workplace and protect employees from harm, including harm resulting from an employee’s own actions. “Harm” can mean physical harm, damage to property and violence, but also consists of sexual and other forms of harassment. Employers can also be held liable for injuries or damages caused by an employee to themselves or to a third party after an employee gets drunk at a company-sponsored event. For that reason, it is appropriate that holiday party plans take into account some simple measures to ensure employee safety and minimize the risk of claims.

To avoid liability, employers should take precautions in preparing for such events. They should set up and communicate clear guidelines to all employees and supervisors/managers on proper conduct and employer expectations.

Several articles have already been posted on HRinfodesk (some recent, some oldies but goodies, but all still relevant) that expand on this very important human resources issue, as well as some do’s and dont’s. Make sure you take the time to read and remind yourself of the precautions you should be taking when planning your company’s holiday party. By following a few simple steps, employers can feel confident that a safe and enjoyable time will be had by all.


And there’s much more… (Subscribers can search HRinfodesk using several keywords such as “holiday party” or “company hosted event”, or “vicarious liability”, among others.)

Yosie Saint-Cyr

Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 18 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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One thought on “Employer holiday parties: some useful tips
  • Samantha says:

    It is unfortunate that the behaviour, or misbehaviour, of employees at a holiday party can mean liability for an employer.

    I think it’s a great thing for an employer to show their appreciation for employees by throwing a holiday party. When people take advantage of this generosity and don’t act as they would at any company function or meeting, it can ruin the occasion.

    How hard is it to be simply respectful of those joining you at the party or lunch? Sure, you want to loosen up and enjoy yourself, but it’s equally easy to have a good time and keep things within normal boundaries.

    That said, I think it is important for employers to have a policy that accomodates for those who may be drinking at the holiday party. With the new “warning” law in effect where people whose blood-alcohol level at 0.05 to 0.08 can have their license susupended for 3 days, employers need to ensure that there is either a taxi or a ride available for just about anyone who has had a drink.