04. December 2019 0

The season for holiday parties is upon us and with all the fun festivities, comes the potential for employer liability.

Employers are exposed to potential legal liability when they host company parties and are legally obligated to ensure they protect against foreseeable harm.  When hosted employer events include alcohol, it raises the requirement to consider the potential for harm if not managed appropriately.

Employer liability arises because of a legal  concept known as “social host liability”.  If an employer can reasonably foresee that an activity has the potential to cause an injury (to an employee, guest, or third party) and fails to take adequate steps to prevent such an injury, they can be held liable for that injury and be required to pay damages.  The most common example is where employers are held liable for injuries caused by an employee that drives under the influence after consuming alcohol at a work party.  However, the concept of “social host liability” also extends to other foreseeable harm such as intoxication that results in sexual or general harassment, vandalism, and/or assault.  Employers can be held responsible for any injuries that occur because of the activities occurring at the party, condition of the premises, or guests’ conduct.  Employers can mitigate their potential liability by ensuring responsible alcohol consumption.

We are not advocating for cancellation of work events that involve alcohol.  Work parties are a great way to reward employees, celebrate, and socialize and they do have a place in the workplace.  Employers however need to carefully consider what steps they can take to ensure the safety of guests and third parties.  Consider the following 10 tips when planning a holiday party in order to minimize potential liability and ensure everyone has a fun and safe time:

  • Promote responsible drinking – Send out an e-mail the day before the event and provide reminder announcements throughout the event reminding employees not to drink and drive and to drink responsibly.
  • Provide taxi vouchers (or make it clear to all guests that their taxi fare will be reimbursed) – This will ensure guests have a safe and free method of getting home.
  • Hire professional bartenders – This will promote more controlled consumption because they have training related to serving the appropriate amount of alcohol, overserving, and identifying signs of intoxication.
  • Non-alcoholic beverages – Ensure there is a selection of non-alcoholic beverages available at the bar as an alternative.
  • Provide food throughout the night – Ensure there is food available for the guests throughout the night, so guests are not consuming alcohol on empty stomachs.
  • Use a “cash bar” system – Stay away from the “open bar” concept, instead provide a limited number of drinks tickets or have a “cash bar” to reduce the opportunity for overconsumption.
  • Stop serving alcohol early – Close the bar at least a couple of hours before the event is scheduled to end.
  • Designate “party monitors” – Designate non-drinking employer representatives to monitor the party and assist in arranging safe transportation home.
  • Clear policies related to misconduct – Have a clear policy for misconduct or sexual harassment, make sure employees are aware of such policies, and follow the policy if there is employee misconduct at a work event.
  • Report any criminal matters to the police – If an incident does occur and it is of a criminal nature report it to the police and launch an internal investigation into the situation.

We wish you all a safe and fun holiday season!


This article was co-authored by Scott Marcinkow and Nicola Virk. If you have questions or comments about this topic, contact Scott Marcinkow at smarcinkow@harpergrey.com, Rose Keith at rkeith@harpergrey.com, or anyone else from our team listed on the Authors page.

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