It’s just about Christmas time and there are plenty of festivities. If you are a business or corporation and are hosting a Christmas party for your employees there are potential liability issues which could dampen your Christmas spirit.
The first case in Canada to apply host liability within the context of the work environment was Jacobsen v. Nike Canada Ltd., 1996 CanLII 3429 (BC SC). In that case, Jacobsen, then age 19, worked as a warehouseman with Nike. During working hours he and his co-workers drank substantial amounts of beer, which was provided by Nike. After work, he visited two clubs and drank more beer. While driving home he drove off the highway, was thrown from his car and suffered injuries that left him a quadriplegic. Jacobsen sued his employer Nike. The Court held that, although the employee voluntarily chose to drink to the point of intoxication, the employer failed to provide a safe workplace by introducing alcohol at work. Jacobsen was awarded $2.7 million in compensation, of which amount the employer was responsible for 75 per cent.
In the employment context, the courts have held that the relationship of employer and employee can create the necessary proximity for a common law duty of care to arise. One example is the well-established duty an employer owes to its employees to provide and maintain a safe workplace and to guard against exposing employees to unreasonable risk of harm. If you are serving alcohol at your office Christmas party, you can be held responsible for any injury to your guest or a third party which results from the intoxication of the guest.
The good news is there are ways to protect your business, such as:
- hosting the Christmas party at a restaurant, bar or hotel conference centre where the commercial host will largely (but not entirely) assume the responsibility for serving and monitoring your guests alcohol intake;
- providing non-alcoholic beverages and food;
- advising employees in an office memo prior to the party that over-drinking is not condoned, that drinking and driving is dangerous and is to be avoided and alerting employees to the necessity of making alternate travel arrangements;
- making attendance to the event voluntary;
- providing taxi vouchers to all employees or guests at the start of the function;
- engage a company to drive guests home in his or her own car;
- hire a professional bartender or server, with a Serve it Right certificate to monitor the door and check the employees for intoxication, and stop anyone who has had too much to drink;
- suggesting that the guest wait until the effects of the alcohol wear off before driving; and,
- finally, if the guest insists on driving a motor vehicle, advise them that you will call the local police—and make the call. You may be saving lives by doing so.
As well, before hosting a social function at which alcoholic beverages will be served, a review of the terms of your business’s insurance policies and exclusions is advised to ensure adequate coverage in the event that claims are made. This would include insisting that any companies or business you hire to assist with driving people home, have ample third party liability insurance.
Everyone will have a Merry Christmas if you employ a couple of strategies to ensure the safety of your employees and guests. To ensure you have done everything to meet your obligations as an employer hosting a Christmas party where alcohol is served, you should contact a lawyer to seek further information. It’s better to seek a lawyers advice before the event, than after the event when your guest has been injured or has injured someone else as a result of being intoxicated, in part, by the alcohol you served them.
The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.