The holidays are a time for food and festivities and, of course, the traditional office holiday party, which is often an event that management and staff really look forward to. Though it seems like an innocent party to show appreciation to your employees, it is important that employers and management understand that there are severe consequences for not considering the liabilities that go along with these little shindigs. Before you send out that invite to your employees, every employer and manager should take the time to make sure they have a clear understanding of their responsibilities.
Are you going to be serving alcohol at your office holiday party? This comes with a lot of burden, as the employer can be found liable for the actions or behaviours of employees at a staff party whom have consumed anything alcoholic to drink. This can include drinking while driving, destroying of property while under the influence, or even sexual harassment that takes place at these events.
Take the high profile Ontario case of Hunt vs. the Sutton Group as an example. According to the Canadian Bar Association, the plaintiff was attending an office Christmas party where she drank a lot of alcohol. After the party, she continued to drink at a bar. She refused three offers of assistance for getting home. That night, she drove drunk and suffered permanent brain damage in a crash.
At trial, the employer and the bar were both found liable for 25 percent of the damages. The judge ruled that the employer should have been more aggressive—ranging from calling her a cab, to even calling the police.
Other liabilities can loom as well, especially because in these situations where alcohol is involved and inhibitions are shed, sexual harassment can occur.
What can you do to help prevent these types of liabilities? Before the office holiday party, remind your staff of your sexual harassment prevention policies in a memo. Hire a bartender who is Smart Serve Certificate or you can even host a family event instead. Keep things appropriate by inviting spouses and family members.