‘Tis the Season to Limit Potential Liability
With the influx of workplace sexual harassment allegations becoming public, an employer needs to take steps to limit potential liability at their office holiday party. The laws governing an employer-employee relationship, still apply during social events organized by employers, including human rights and occupational health and safety legislation.
For this reason, many employers have nixed the open bar at their holiday parties in favour of limited drink tickets. Other employers have nixed their holiday parties all-together, in favour of events like holiday luncheons at the office.
Unfortunately, even when an employer does everything right, it does not guarantee people will behave appropriately, and issues such as sexual harassment can still occur.
There are a number of steps that employees and employers can take to ensure that their office holiday parties are a success.
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Office Holiday Party: Employees
Where the office holiday party is concerned, employees should:
- Not feel obligated to attend the party
- Monitor their and their guest’s alcohol consumption
- Avoid discussing private work communications, spreading gossip, or making promises they cannot keep during the party
- Avoid engaging with any colleague or their guest that becomes belligerent, harassing and agressive
- Immediately report an improper conduct by any employees or their guests, to senior management of the company
Office Holiday Party: Employers
Where the office holiday party is concerned, employers should:
- Provide limited drink tickets to employees and their guests, if alcohol is to be served
- Close the bar a couple of hours before the end of the party
- Send out an email to employees before the party, to remind them of their expected etiquette and behaviour at the event.
- Remind staff that the company’s Workplace Harassment and Workplace Sexual Harassment policies remain in full effect at the office holiday party
- Designate certain individuals as party monitors, to be in charge of keeping an eye on alcohol consumption, the state of the guests, and when party-goers are leaving (to ensure that they’re not drinking and driving)
- Provide taxi chits to employees
- Ensure the location chosen for the party is accessible to all staff and their guests
- Ensure that non-alcoholic beverages are served throughout the night, along with food, if alcohol is being consumed
- Discourage the management team from drinking in excess, and to lead by example
Employers need to ensure that if they receive any complaints with respect to the behaviour or conduct of their employees or their guests following the office holiday party, that those complaints are investigated in accordance with the Company’s Workplace Harassment policies and procedures.
Chantel Goldsmith is an employment and labour lawyer, and Partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP. She persistently pursues her clients’ interests vigorously with unwavering determination.