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‘Tis the Season for Holiday Parties!

With the holiday season upon us, many workplaces take the opportunity to celebrate together. The holiday party is a great way for companies to recognize their employees and build morale. However, these events can also create legal risks for employers, of which companies should be mindful.

Employers have a number of obligations under health and safety legislation to provide a safe and health work environment. Employers also have human rights obligations to ensure that its workplace is free from discrimination and harassment. The law is clear that the workplace can and does extend beyond the company’s general office facility, and includes company sponsored social events such as a holiday party.

There have been a number of cases in recent years where companies have been found responsible for injuries sustained by employees who become intoxicated at the holiday party and ultimately injure themselves or others after leaving the festivities. Companies have been held liable for harassment that has occurred at such festivities.

In order to minimize your risks, here are some tips to consider for a company sponsored holiday party:

  • Have an alcohol-free event, or limit the number of alcoholic drinks available for each employee (i.e. provide tickets).
  • Hold a daytime rather than evening event. Generally, a daytime event is associated less with excessive drinking.
  • Have activities or entertainment, so that drinking becomes less of a focus.
  • Host the event off-site (at a licensed venue). Although this does not eliminate an employer’s liability and employers cannot turn a blind eye to employees’ alcohol consumption, the venue assumes some responsibility for providing servers properly trained in serving alcohol and would have a part to play in monitoring employees’ alcohol consumption.
  • Remind employees before the event that all workplace policies apply at the party. Re-circulate relevant company policies to remind employees of expectations with respect to employee conduct, including the code of conduct, respect in the workplace and/or harassment and discrimination.
  • Before and at the event, caution employees against excess drinking, and the perils of drinking and driving.
  • Offer additional means of transportation for employees that become intoxicated.
  • Provide food and non-alcoholic beverage options.
  • Have drinks served by professional bartenders who are Smart Serve certified and can monitor the amount of alcohol employees are consuming.
  • Designate individuals to monitor employee alcohol consumption and general conduct at the event.
  • Do not permit an employee to drive impaired. If an employee is insisting on driving while impaired, call the employee’s spouse or family member to come pick them up, or if need be, call the police.
  • Secure proper host liability insurance coverage.