It is not uncommon for employers to sponsor or hold workplace events with alcohol being served. An example may be a Christmas party either held at the workplace or at an event hall. Employers must be aware, however, that certain risks of liability are present when holding such events. Essentially, employers must take on the same responsibilities of regular commercial alcohol vendors such as a local bar or restaurant. Employers should do all that is possible to monitor employee alcohol consumption, provide for transposition, and implement procedures that aid in limiting alcohol consumption to safe levels.
An example of the responsibilities employers have when serving alcohol at workplace parties can be seen in the case of Hunt v. Sutton Group Incentive Realty (Ontario Superior Court, 2001). The employer here held a Christmas party at the workplace with alcohol available. An employee became intoxicated while at the party and then attended a bar with co-workers and continued to drink. The employee then attempted to drive home but suffered a severe car accident that left the employee with brain damage. This employee was successful in suing the employer for negligence, alleging that the employer failed to take proper steps in protecting its employees from harm. The court ruled that the employer had a responsibility to protect its employees beyond the physical workplace. Specifically, it was not enough that the employer provided alternative transportation home. The employer here should have taken measures to limit and monitor employee alcohol consumption at the workplace Christmas party, rather than have an unsupervised open bar.
In light of this case, employers should take the following precautions when hosting or sponsoring parties that serve alcohol. Ensure that alcohol is not the sole activity; provide food and various activities. Also, make sure that alcohol distribution is controlled. Having authorized or designated servers are the best way to accomplish this objective. Employers may also choose to issue a limited amount of alcohol tickets per employee. Employers should also stop serving alcohol a few hours before the end of the event. Having personnel to aid in detecting when employees have consumed alcohol past a reasonable limit is also advisable. Transportation arrangements are also very important and strongly recommended.