‘Tis the season to be liable (Legal view)

Employers that don’t mitigate liability risk at workplace parties could face cold, unhappy and litigious holiday season
By Susan Sorensen
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/15/2009

It may be the most wonderful time of the year but, for employers, the holiday season can introduce liabilities. Employers need to be particularly careful when hosting work-related functions where alcohol is being served or consumed. In such circumstances, employers can be found liable for negligence if a reasonably foreseeable injury to an employee — or to a third party — occurs during, or as a result of, a company-sponsored event. Employers can also be liable for harassment as a result of activities or situations arising from, or at, workplace parties and related functions.

Duty of care to employees

Employers owe a duty of care to employees in certain situations. Where an employer is hosting a work-related event involving the serving or consumption of alcohol, its duty of care has been held by at least one court — the British Columbia Supreme Court in Jacobsen v. Nike Canada Ltd. — to be higher than the duty owed by a commercial host, such as a bar or restaurant to patrons.