Don’t be afraid to host a holiday party

While there are certainly risks, following the steps below will help ensure that your company can enjoy a safe, merry and well-deserved celebration.

Remember that staff parties can also pay off in many ways by:

  • Improving morale
  • Boosting engagement
  • Acting as a forum for discussing ideas not broached in the workplace

What happens at the office holiday party stays at the office holiday party, or does it? Ahead of this year’s company festivities, our Kamloops employment lawyers review the risks that employers face.


Your legal liability

If you have a staff member in a position that requires regular socializing with clients, did you know that you as an employer could be held legally responsible for their actions if things go sideways at a work-related social event?

If entertaining is not the norm at your organization, and the seasonal staff party is just one of the few occasions that your team celebrates together after hours, it’s far less likely that your company will be held legally responsible for incidents that occur at or after a party, including:

  • Fights
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Vehicle accidents caused by intoxication


How to help ensure only good things happen at your holiday office party

  1. Communicate expectations in advance.

Spell out to staff that you want people to enjoy themselves but to also behave appropriately and safely, following the same policies and standards of behaviour expected at the office, including refraining from harassment and discrimination.


  1. Provide transportation to and from the party

These days, many organizations provide transportation home from the office holiday party, but our employment lawyers suggest going a step further and providing transportation both ways.

It’s understandable that staff would be reluctant to leave their vehicle overnight and may consider driving home, so when you take the ‘left-behind vehicle’ out of the equation, you make it easier for staff to make safer transportation choices. Alternately, make arrangements with a designated driver service to drive employees and their vehicles home.


  1. Limit the number and/or types of free drinks

Instead of offering an endless open bar and a dedicated shooter server, you may want to consider limiting the number of free drinks, and it might be wise to exclude shooters from those free drinks.


  1. Hire professional serving staff

Professional bartenders have their Serving it Right certificate, and that means they’ll be mindful of not over-serving your guests. When you leave staff to serve themselves, over-indulgence is more likely and so is your potential legal liability.


  1. Forgo mistletoes and Santa’s lap

No need to encourage people to cross the lines of appropriate behaviour or take part in activities that are no longer socially acceptable.

That said, when two adults consent to behaviour, they are consenting adults and are responsible for their actions.  But remember an over-intoxicated employee might not be able to consent, and the ability of junior level staff to consent to “behaviour” with a senior manager may be unclear.


  1. Talk cannabis

Yes, smoking and consuming cannabis is now legal in Canada, but as an employer, you have the right to prohibit the use of cannabis at your party, just as you can with alcohol.

This is another example of how a clear and well-communicated company drug policy sets the tone for expected behaviours. Read our post on marijuana in the workplace and our employment lawyers’ suggestions for defining a strong company drug and alcohol policy.


Beyond legal liability: The other risk your company could pay for dearly

Let’s say your staff engage in a drinking contest at your company party, you turn a blind eye, and someone gets hurt or hurts someone else on the way home. The incident makes headlines, and each telling of the story publicly shouts out your company’s name.  Even if you’re not legally responsible for what happened, the harm to your company’s reputation can be significant. With that said, be sure to communicate expectations upfront before the party begins.

Remember, social gatherings are important, and we hope your team enjoys the best of the season safely.


Is your company considering Kamloops lawyers to help with your harassment policies, drug policies or other HR needs? The human rights and employment lawyers at Gillespie draw on decades of specialized experience to help protect your firm. Call 1-250-374-443.