Your company probably has an annual event that follows a similar formula every year, whether it’s a formal awards night or a night out on the company tab. But there are serious considerations when it comes to planning your company’s event, and one of the big ones is the legal grey area it falls into.
Employers fall into a kind of grey zone between social host and commercial host, but Canadian courts have found that because of the authority employers have over their staff they do have a duty of care.
“As an employer you owe your employees a certain level of care in terms of protecting them,” Crawford Chondon & Partners associate Kelsey Orth said. “The courts will look at whether or not you as an employer did what you need to do to protect employees from harm, and to protect employees from hurting others.”
See also: Get the party started!
A number of cases have shown that if an employee drives home drunk from a company event the company is at least partially liable if they did not offer alternative transportation. In one case a company was ordered to pay damages of $200,000. This case was later turned over on a technicality, but Orth said it still stood as a warning to employers.
Another issue that can come up is violence or harassment. A constant concern in the workplace, once you add alcohol you only increase the likelihood of an incident occurring. Again, based on previous court decisions, an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe environment doesn’t end when the first beer is opened.
Next page: What problems can arise and how can you address them?