November 06, 2012

Holiday office parties are often a much-anticipated opportunity for members of the workplace to relax and celebrate socially. However, employers and unions should be aware of the risks that arise during parties, such as possible sexual harassment or post-party drunk driving. Join Lancaster’s panel of experts as they discuss the best way to plan and host an office party to protect employers, employees, and other guests. Issues to be discussed include:

    • Alcohol at employer-hosted office parties: Does it matter if the party is on-site, at a restaurant or hotel, or after work hours? Does it make a difference if the employer provides alcohol, sets up a cash bar, or hosts on a BYOB basis? Is an employer responsible for monitoring the alcohol consumption of employees at a work party? Should an inebriated employee be “cut off” and does an employer have a duty to take steps to keep an inebriated employee from driving? Does an employer have vicarious liability in negligence for a third-party who is hurt by an employee who drives while impaired after drinking at an office party? Does it matter whether the employer knew about the employee’s drinking?
    • Alcohol at union-hosted parties for members: Is a union party for members and guests equivalent to a private party where alcohol is served by a “social host?” Does the union have a duty of care to the guests who attend? Does it matter if the party is BYOB, or if the union supplies alcohol? What if union staff serve alcohol to guests who are visibly inebriated? What if union staff know an inebriated guest plans to drive home? What if inebriated employees start a fight?
    • Crossing the line from hijinks to harassment: When will borderline behaviour at a party hosted by an employer or a union amount to harassment or assault? Does it matter if there’s a culture of horseplay or touching among the employees or union members? What obligations does an employer or union have to maintain a safe party environment under Bill 168?
    • Protecting against sexual harassment: What conduct constitutes sexual harassment? When will friendliness or flirtation at an office or union party become sexual harassment? Does it matter whether the employee or union member “welcomed” sexual comments or acts? Can sexual harassment still occur where parties have had a sexual relationship in the past? Does it matter if there is a supervisory relationship involved? What is the proper response by an employer or union to an allegation of sexual harassment at a social event from an employee or member?
    • Tips to consider: What measures should unions or employers take to avoid liability and ensure safety for employees and union members at parties? Should employers and unions develop policies for safe alcohol consumption at events? Should they monitor drinking? Is it helpful to hold social events at professional venues, where bartenders and wait staff can monitor consumption? What about limiting drinking by having cash bars or drink tickets? Should there be a time at which alcohol is no longer served? Should there be alcohol-free alternatives? Should the employer or union ensure that food is served, to prevent drinking on an empty stomach? Should directors and managers limit their consumption, in order to “set the tone?” Is it important to make attendance at social events voluntary? Is it beneficial to host events that have entertainment as the focus, so that drinking becomes de-emphasized? Should employers and unions provide taxi chits, chauffeurs, hotel stays, or other alternatives to driving? Should they call the cabs for inebriated employees and members? Should employers and union staff take away guests’ keys at the beginning of the night? Should they call the police if the employee insists on driving while intoxicated?