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With the holiday season upon us, it’s a good time to visit cautionary points relating to annual holiday parties and other festive events. 

The laws governing an employer-employee relationship, including laws concerning human rights and occupational health and safety, still apply during social events organized by employers.

Some smart planning can, therefore, help to avoid uncomfortable circumstances involving harassment or other behaviours that can lead to termination of employment and/or claims for wrongful dismissal

Given all this, here are our top tips for employers who are planning to host an office holiday party!

Develop Policies to Set Expectations

Employers would be wise to ensure that proper procedures and policies relating to, for example, off-duty conduct, drugs and alcohol, and sexual harassment are in place so that employees fully understand what is expected of them during the holiday season at work.

Employers may also wish to consider sending out an email to employees before any holiday event to remind them of their expected etiquette and behaviour at the event.

Manage Alcohol Consumption

Employers have a general obligation to protect the health, safety and dignity of their employees and to be diligent towards their employees with respect to the consumption of alcohol during office events. Further, employers should be aware that they could potentially be held liable for the misconduct of their employees with respect to the overconsumption of alcohol or even sexual harassment at office-related events. To ensure that alcohol is consumed responsibly during office events we recommend:

  • Skipping the open bar and giving out drink tickets instead in order to control the amount of alcohol consumed by employees;
  • Cutting off employees who appear to be inebriated;
  • Closing the bar (or making a “last call”) in advance of the end of the event to allow for at least partial recovery;
  • Providing taxi coupons or a shuttle service to ensure employees get home safely; and
  • Having plenty of snacks and water readily available throughout the event.

Cannabis Use

Employers would be wise to remain aware of employees who may be using marijuana to ensure their safety and that of other employees.  As with alcohol, employers should be vigilant in monitoring impairment relating to cannabis and ensuring that nobody drives themselves home while under the influence.

Review and Respond to Any Complaints

If employers receive any complaints with respect to the behaviour or conduct of their employees or their guests, those complaints should be promptly investigated. Conducting a thorough review in accordance with the company’s workplace harassment policies and procedures will ensure that any questionable conduct is properly addressed and necessary disciplinary matters are carried out.

Sultan Lawyers would like to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season.

If you have any questions about employer obligations, whether relating to harassment, termination of employment or otherwise, we would happy to assist you. Please contact Toronto employment lawyers Sultan Lawyers at 416-214-5111 or via email at mlahert@sultanlawyers.com


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