Having workplace Christmas parties can be a fun and social way of bonding with your co workers and supervisors, however there is one major thing you must watch out for as a host of those sorts of events; alcohol. It is estimated that 63,000 people are injured annually due to drunk driving, and as an employer or supervisor hosting a work related event with alcohol, you are liable for any accidents that occur due to the consumption of alcohol at your event.
For instance, in 1996 in British Columbia, a supervisor brought in beer for the employees that were working at a trade show for 16 hours on a hot day. It was meant to be a kind act; if it had been in moderation, it would have been okay. However, one man drank to excess and then chose to drive home. On his way home he fell asleep while driving and rolled his car into a ditch. As a result, he became a paraplegic and sued the company. The company was decided to be 75% liable because the supervisor should have taken precautions so that the employee was not harmed; the company owed $2.7 million in damages. This could have easily been avoided by calling a taxi for him, telling him stay at a hotel to sleep it off and then drive home when he was in the proper condition to. There are a lot of options available to enable employees to get home safely in these situations.
Another example of how unmanaged alcoholic beverages at a company party affected the company negatively would be in the case of an Ontarian woman, a receptionist, who was attending a wine and cheese party that her employer was hosting. She had “some” alcohol during the event, and when she was asked twice at two separate times whether she needed a drive home, she said she didn’t need one. After the event, she went to a bar with some co-workers and was in an accident almost two hours later. Both the company whose event she was attending, and the bar she went to afterwards, were both charged because neither of them stopped her from driving while intoxicated. If the employer was unsure about if she was ok to drive legally or not, they should have taken precautions. As they say, better safe than sorry.
This final case shows how it paid off to install precautions around alcohol at parties. At this particular event, an employer was hosting a Christmas party. The party was set up so that employees had to purchase their own drinks; they weren’t free flowing. Later on, an employee who had purchased and drank several drinks and was intoxicated and borrowed his employer’s snowmobile with his employer’s permission to get home. On the way home, he got in a crash with another snowmobile and injured a passenger. During the trial, it was found that the company was not guilty due to the fact that the drinks were purchased independently by the employee. However the employer alone was at fault due to the fact that he lent his snowmobile to a man who it was clearly intoxicated. He was found responsible for the damages.
These incidents show the importance of carefully managing alcohol consumption if you have alcohol at your work party. Some ways of protecting your guests could be:
- providing alternatives to alcohol such as food and non-alcoholic drinks,
- providing licensed bar tenders, who are able to note when people have drank too much and cut them off,
- choosing a location that’s conducive to using public transportation,
- closing the bar early,
- giving out a specific number of drink coupons, or;
- providing taxi or hotel coupons or coverage.
Remember, this isn’t just about making sure you don’t get your company into any legal issues; it’s also about protecting your employees, co-workers or anyone who may be affected by their drinking, and still having fun. Have a great and safe Holiday Season!