Office Holiday Parties – The Fine Print

An office holiday party is a great time to unwind as a team and encourage a sense of community.  Unfortunately, shenanigans and even serious misconduct may call for discipline and expose employers to serious liability when the dust settles. Particularly at events where alcohol is being served, employers may be held responsible for employee misconduct occurring during the party or even hours after the event concludes.

Discipline for Party-Related Misconduct

Just because employees are at a party does not mean they have carte blanche.  Certainly the whole point is to let loose a little.  But professional decorum, human rights and common sense still apply.  An employee who gets out of hand at a company event, or after an event with co-workers, may be subject to discipline and even termination in serious cases.  If there is a nexus between the misconduct and the employment relationship, it is appropriate to consider disciplinary action.

Alcohol and Your Holiday Party

Employers have a duty to take reasonable care to safeguard employees from harm. This includes taking reasonable steps to protect employees from future events, for instance, if it is reasonably foreseeable that an employee will continue to consume alcohol after she leaves the event and attempts to drive home. In addition, employers may be liable for the harm employees cause third parties.

There are some simple steps that an employer can take to avoid these risks:

  1. Provide employees with a limited number of drink tickets instead of having an open bar
  2. Provide a good variety of alcohol free drink alternatives
  3. Provide employees with taxi chits or another alternative form of transportation and discourage employees from driving home from the event (do this in advance so people don’t drive to work – often people drive home drunk to avoid leaving their car parked overnight)
  4. If an employee appears intoxicated, take steps to ensure that they take a taxi home
  5. Host the holiday party away from the office at a location licensed to serve alcohol
  6. Discourage the consumption of large amounts of alcohol at the event

Office holiday parties should be fun and should build team morale.  But that does not mean checking common sense at the door.

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