Our colleague in Toronto, Melissa Kennedy, recently posted about the joys and legal perils of workplace holiday parties. Her post is an excellent reminder of best practices every employer should undertake to make sure that a holiday party does not lead to less jolly legal consequences. We reproduce Melissa’s post below.
With the holiday season fast approaching, many organizations are in the midst of planning their annual holiday parties, meant to recognize the culmination of a year of hard work by employees and celebrate the holiday season. Although this time of year is marked with celebration and provides for a valuable team building opportunity, it can also bring with it particular obligations and potential liabilities for an employer. When planning and hosting a holiday party, there are a number of factors that an organization must consider in order to reduce liabilities and take every precaution reasonable to ensure the health, safety and protection of its employees. These include:
1. Alcohol Consumption
The over-consumption of alcohol can lead to a number of unfavourable outcomes; accordingly, it is important to limit the in-take of alcohol by guests. This can be achieved by setting a fixed period of time where alcohol will be served; restricting the types of alcohol that are served (e.g. serving wine and beer options, excluding spirits or hard liquor); and/or providing a controlled number of drink tickets per guest.
Ensuring that there are transportation options available to employees, following the conclusion of a holiday party is very important, especially where alcohol has been served. A good practice is to pre-arrange transportation with a local taxi company, either by ensuring that there are taxis on standby and/or providing taxi chits to employees following the conclusion of the event. In some cities there are designated driver services available whereby a licensed operator will drive an individual and their vehicle home when they are unable to drive themselves.
Given the abundance of faiths, religious denominations and practices that an organization’s employees may affiliate themselves with, it is important to ensure that holiday parties remain non-denominational in nature. This will ensure that no employee is made to feel excluded and will eliminate the likelihood of a Human Rights violation and subsequent claim.
Where alcohol is being consumed, there is an increased risk of inappropriate behaviour by individuals. In order to remind employees of expectations regarding mutual respect, it is good practice to distribute a copy of the organization’s anti-harassment policy well in advance of the holiday party. This will ensure that employees are mindful of their actions towards others while in attendance. Including a copy of the organization’s dress code may also be worthwhile, reminding employees that expectations for appropriate attire in the workplace remain unchanged.
5. Communication & Monitoring
Transparent and consistent communication of expectations surrounding alcohol consumption, appropriate behaviour and suitable attire, well in advance of the holiday party, will ensure that employees are aware of their responsibilities. Providing details about transportation options prior to the holiday party, will afford employees with the opportunity to arrange their journey home safely and without setback. Moreover, assigning one or two individuals from the organization with the responsibility to monitor guests’ behaviour and alcohol consumption, and ensure that they obtain appropriate transportation home, will further safeguard employees and reduce the organization’s liabilities.