Festive feasts and merry martinis: Top 10 tips to minimize employer host liability

Key things to remember to make workplace holiday parties successful, safe, and liability-free

‘Tis the season for holiday parties. It's important for employers to remember the steps they should take to minimize their liability risks arising from the consumption of alcohol by employees and their guests.

Liability on an employer can arise where an employee attends an office party, consumes alcohol and is injured, or causes injuries or even death to another person or people even after leaving the party. Liability is generally imposed on employers where (1) the employer provides alcohol to the employee; (2) the employer has knowledge of the employee’s intoxication; and (3) the employer fails to take sufficient steps to prevent the employee from driving.  The financial and reputational implications for the employer where liability is established can be enormous.

While the safest route is to not permit alcohol at employer-hosted events at all, we recognize that this is often not a reasonable expectation. To minimize employers’ liability risks where alcohol is available, Cox & Palmer recommends the following ten tips:

  1. Create and circulate a policy addressing overindulgence at employer’s events and prohibiting drinking and driving
  2. Provide taxi vouchers or other easily accessible transportation to and from the event, or provide reasonable accommodations to all attendees free of charge, and make sure attendees are aware of their availability in advance of the event
  3. Make sure non-alcoholic beverages are available
  4. Hire professional bartenders who are trained to identify intoxicated patrons and how to handle them
  5. Ensure food is served at all times when alcohol is available
  6. Give verbal warnings and prevent intoxicated employees from consuming additional alcohol
  7. Provide guests with a limited number of drink tickets, rather than having an unlimited open bar
  8. Avoid offering and promoting the consumption of unmixed liquor (ie. shots) and ultra-strong drinks (ex. triples)
  9. Disallow drinking games
  10. Attempt to take away the car keys of any intoxicated attendees who intend to or are likely to drive, and if they insist on driving, call the police.

Terri C. Higdon is an associate with Cox & Palmer in St. John's, practicing employment and labour law, personal injury, privacy law, and other civil litigation. She can be reached at (709) 570-5573 or [email protected].

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