Recent changes to British Columbia’s drinking and driving laws have renewed interest in the issue of employer liability as a social host. With the holiday season approaching fast, many of us are wondering about the risk associated with serving alcohol to employees.
A LEGAL OVERVIEW
In a nutshell, employers are imposed with a very high standard of care when it comes to these types of functions. Consider the case of Jacobson v. Nike. In that case, a young employee drank eight beers, served by his supervisors while on the job, and several more beers on his own at a local pub, before he decided to get behind the wheel. He was subsequently involved in a single-vehicle accident and rendered a quadriplegic. Despite the fact that he had continued drinking after the workplace event had ended, the court still found his employer 75% liable for the employee’s injuries. In doing so, the court found that the employer’s obligation to monitor the employee’s alcohol consumption went as far as to ensure the employee was not “over-served” – the same high standard applied to bars and restaurants in the Province.
The BC Workers Compensation Act (“WCA”) is also an important piece of legislation that is often overlooked when dealing with this topic. Section 10 of the WCA prohibits claims by employees against employers that “arise out of and in the course of employment”, yet a number of claims against employers by employees have successfully made their way through the courts, despite the wording of this section. They mostly all involve alcohol being served at employer social events. It is important to note that WCB Regulations do not prohibit alcohol from being served at work, but employers have the responsibility to maintain a reasonably safe workplace. Failure to do so can result in heavy fines that grow with each violation!
BUT I’VE GOT INSURANCE!
Many employers think that at the end of the day, their insurance policies will be their saving grace. Not so fast. Many policies do not cover employer social events or require their policyholders to take out additional event-specific coverage. Before planning any event where alcohol might be served, it might be a good idea to check with your insurance provider first.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO MINIMIZE YOUR RISK
It goes without saying that the holiday season is a time that many employers want to express their gratitude to their employees by throwing a party. For some workplaces, it is the social event of the year. Here are some tips to reducing the employer’s risk when hosting one of these types of events:
Have the party outside of the office, in a licensed establishment that is able to monitor the consumption of alcohol.
- Arrange and offer taxi vouchers or chits for your employees and be sure to tell your employees about the vouchers well in advance of the party, so they can make plans to leave their cars at home that day. It might even be a good idea to phone the taxi company ahead of time to let them know that you will have a large number of people requiring a ride home at the end of the night.
- If there is a hotel nearby to your social event, perhaps arrange hotel vouchers, so employees can stay the night if they’ve had too much to drink.
Contact your insurance provider and inquire about purchasing additional insurance – just in case!
If your office is the ideal setting for a party, considering hiring a professional bartender to serve the drinks – or get the whole event catered.
Enjoy your holiday party and have a safe holiday season.
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.