Seasonal Parties and Alcohol Impairment – A Risky Mix

It’s been a while since I wrote on the topic of the heightened risk of injuries resulting from alcohol consumption at work-related events.  ‘Tis the season, and so I’m back to spoil the party, again, with safety-focused tips and advice.

While accidents arising out of office parties are seemingly few, when they do happen the ramifications can be quite substantial.  B.C.’s Supreme Court, some years ago, in a decision arising out of an alcohol-fueled accident on the dance floor, awarded the plaintiff $5.9 million (the bulk of which was for loss of future earning capacity). 

Canadian court cases have firmly established the employer’s duty of care to take active steps to prevent injuries as a result of its employees’ alcohol consumption at work-related events.  If banning alcohol from staff events altogether isn’t satisfactory, there are many steps the employer can take towards reducing the likelihood of an accident.

Start With Implementing A Policy

Among other things, employers should implement a policy governing service and consumption of alcohol at company events.  The first objective of such a policy is to put employees on notice that staff events are not an excuse for consuming alcohol to the point of posing a danger to themselves and others.

The policy may state that the employer opposes over-consumption and, in particular, opposes the operation of a vehicle (or engaging in other inherently dangerous activities) while impaired.  It may also emphasize that the purpose of the policy is to establish a protocol for responsible consumption of alcohol at staff events.

The second objective of the policy is to establish basic rules to ensure the manner in which the event is organized and run discourages excessive consumption and minimizes the risk of injury.  The employer might also distribute to its event organizers specific instructions on how to, and how not to, organize and monitor a staff event.

Event organizers may be made to understand that arranging and monitoring company events is considered to be an element of their job and that failure to comply with directions could have ramifications for their employment.

Employers should also communicate to the employees, in writing, that they are invited to attend on the conditions that they will take responsibility for their own consumption, will moderate their intake of alcohol, and will co-operate to ensure their safety (and that of others).  There are many other practical steps which may be utilized to reduce the risk of impairment and of a resulting injury.

Practical Tips for a Safe Holiday Party

A selection of non-alcoholic beverages and substantial foods should be provided, and guests should be encouraged to spend more time eating than drinking.  Activities which keep people active and which distract them from drinking, even temporarily, are highly recommended… conga line, anyone?

Employers might consider demanding employees turn in their car keys as a condition of being served alcohol at the event. Telephone numbers for spouses or other family members can be obtained in advance in the event they need to be contacted.

The employer should appoint a (trained, preferably) person to monitor alcohol consumption and behaviour and to take action when impairment is detected.  It should set and enforce strict limits on the number of drinks an employee may purchase (and be especially careful to eliminate “bulk” buying later in the evening) and ensure that the bar closes well prior to the end of the event.

I discourage employers from distributing free “drink tickets” or providing an “open” bar.  (Drink tickets might seem like an effective way to limit each person’s consumption, but drinkers will acquire the tickets of non-drinkers, thus evading the built-in limit.)  Employees definitely shouldn’t be allowed to mix and pour their own drinks. 

Plainly, employees who are exhibiting outward signs of impairment should not be permitted to continue consuming alcohol. 

Getting Home After The Party

The employer should provide designated drivers or alternate means of transportation directly home for employees who have consumed alcohol.  It shouldn’t be at all reluctant to contact the police immediately in the event a potentially impaired employee manages to leave unaccompanied.

The employer shouldn’t ever leave the decision of whether to drive in the hands of the potentially impaired employee.  Most importantly, the employer shouldn’t allow a potentially impaired employee to leave the event unless accompanied by a designated driver (or by some other sober, responsible person) who has clear instructions to get the employee directly home.

‘Tis the season to be merry, but being merry is a whole lot easier when everyone gets home safe and sound after the party.



This item is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. Informed legal advice should always be obtained about your specific circumstances.

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