Ask a Lawyer: How to stay out of trouble at your Christmas party

Ask a Lawyer: How to stay out of trouble at your Christmas party

Ask a Lawyer: How to stay out of trouble at your Christmas party Hosting a holiday party is a great way to thank your employees for their hard work and to celebrate your company’s successes in the last year. However, if a holiday party gets out of control or is not reflective of your workforce’s ethnic/cultural diversity it can create unforeseen liabilities, particularly where alcohol is involved.  Let’s face it, it’s the end of 2017 and we’ve heard enough about harassment recently to know that employers have to be vigilant.

By now we all know that Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act holds employers responsible to take measures to prevent workplace harassment.  But did you know that the concept of “workplace” extends to work functions, including your holiday party? 

So here is your annual reminder from CCPartners that employers can be liable where their guests – whether or not they are employees – become unruly and engage in any violent or harassing conduct, including sexual harassment, at a holiday party.

Since it is so important for Employers to recognize their responsibility and control their exposures to risk, we at CCPartners have compiled a list of suggested “best practices” to assist your organization in planning and hosting a safe and inclusive holiday event:
  • Hold an alcohol-free event. This is the lowest-risk option for employers.
  • If you decide to provide alcohol at the event, have a cash bar, hire licensed bartenders, and speak to employees before the event about the risks of over-drinking.
  • Employees should also be reminded that this is a workplace function and they are expected to behave in a way that is not harassing, discriminatory, intimidating or otherwise inappropriate, and that your workplace violence and harassment policies apply to the Holiday Party.
  • Holding a morning (brunch) event rather than an evening event where alcohol is served may reduce the consumption of alcohol.
  • Provide non-alcoholic drinks as an option.
  • Avoid serving alcohol if your event includes physical activities, or serve the alcohol after the physical event is completed.
  • Have food available throughout the party, and accommodate diverse palates including for those with food allergies or sensitivities.
  • Provide alternative transportation for employees (i.e. taxi chits or Uber reimbursement). Encourage employees before the event to leave their vehicles at home and take advantage of the alternative transportation you are providing to get to and from the event.
  • Arrange for a nearby hotel to have rooms available for employees who are unable to get home.
  • Stop serving alcoholic beverages at least an hour before the party is over.
  • Be respectful of the different cultural and belief systems among your employees when planning your event. Make sure the date of your event, your menu and activities reflect your workforce’s religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity.
  • Where your workforce is culturally diverse, consider creating a holiday planning committee of representative employees to plan your event, and plan your event around the many religious holidays being celebrated around this time.
  • Consider inviting your employees’ family to accommodate those who may be unable to leave young children at home.
  • Allow employees to opt out of your holiday event without a consequence or negative connotation.
  • Make sure the venue is accessible to those attending your event.
  • Consider creating an electronic-free event, where use of cell phones and other mobile/recording devices are limited. This will help to ensure that your event and your employees don’t end up on social media.
It truly is the most wonderful time of the year to be a responsible employer.  Keep these tips in mind to reduce the likelihood of human rights complaints, harassment allegations, or even civil claims for “social host negligence” if an unfortunate/intoxicated employee ends up being seriously injured after leaving your event.  If you have any questions or doubts about your company’s planned holiday events, reach out to any one of the professionals at CCPartners.  A well-planned and inclusive holiday event will not only foster a positive climate in your workplace, but will go a long way in keeping you on Santa’s nice list.  After all, nobody wants to get see costly lawsuit show up under the tree!

Wishing you and your employees a safe and festive Holiday Season.

For even more Holiday Party tips and information, listen to Episode 3 of the Lawyers for Employers podcast on SoundCloud.