Date Posted

December 15, 2022

‘Tis the season for Christmas parties, and in many cases, comes the serving of alcohol at a company sanctioned event. This is often part of the company culture and in line with the lifestyles of many of the workers but certainly not in all cases. Regardless, the risk of serving alcohol at workplace sanctioned events can outweigh the benefits.

Why Does it Matter?

It is clear that under the Canada Labour Code Part II and Alberta OHS Act that employers are responsible for ensuring the health, safety and welfare of their workers. This includes protecting them against acts of harassment or violence. The act of simply serving alcohol at a work event can significantly increase the risk of an incident caused or influenced by alcohol consumption.

What Dangers Lurk in Providing Alcohol to Staff?

Employers run a lot of risk when they allow alcohol at work-sponsored events or in the workplace. As mentioned, the employer is still responsible for making sure that its employees are safe, even if the alcohol is being supplied in a private location off-site.

Employers may be held accountable when workers partake in alcohol drinking at work-related events. In a well-known case out of the Ontario Court of Appeal Hunt v. Sutton Group Incentive Realty, an employee attended a company Christmas Party and drank. She then left the gathering, went to a pub and continued drinking. After leaving the pub, she tried to drive home, but was involved in a car accident and suffered a brain injury. She then sued the company for negligence and was successful.

There are numerous additional cases like this where the courts have determined that businesses are accountable when workers suffer injuries as a result of drinking alcohol during a work-sponsored function. Such as Jacobsen vs. Nike Canada from the BC supreme court. In this case, the business provided the beer to the worker, who then later was involved in an automobile accident.

Employers should be aware that selling alcohol in the workplace can lead to addiction issues in addition to the apparent risks of drunk driving. For those who are battling alcohol addiction/dependence or are in recovery from it, serving alcohol at work functions might create a hazardous environment.

The riskier behaviours and bad judgement that can result from drinking are an additional risk that comes along with its use at work functions. If employees are offered alcohol, the likelihood of violent and harassing behaviour increases.

What are the best practices when serving alcohol at a work event?

At social gatherings, not supplying alcohol may turn out to be a highly controversial choice as well. Therefore, if you intend to make drinking a part of your workplace’s social culture, make sure your policy is strict and spells out when and how it is permitted at authorized events and meetings as well as safety precautions for workers who are drinking. In addition, make it clear that over consumption is never acceptable.

When alcohol is going to be served, it is strongly recommended that the employer conducts a formal hazard assessment and puts adequate controls into place to prevent over consumption. This will demonstrate a level of due diligence and prevent the worst-case scenarios involving alcohol in the workplace.

How to Minimize Risk When Serving Alcohol at Work Events

The following actions to reduce the risk of offering alcohol at professional events include but are not limited to:

Before

  • Before any occasions where alcohol will be provided, distribute a copy of the company’s alcohol policy to employees to remind them of the appropriate ways to consume alcohol
  • Distribute a reminder that, even in the absence of a policy, employees should drink responsibly, not too much, and never while operating a vehicle
  • Employees should be reminded of the company’s code of conduct and that harassing actions committed while intoxicated will not be tolerated
  • Make certain they understand how to return home securely
  • Encourage them to leave their cars at home and pay for a taxi to the party
  • Make sure that the emphasis of workplace functions is not on drinking. Do not have party activities that require alcohol. For example, a drinking contest or game
  • Consider the schedule of the events where you will be offering alcoholic beverages. Events that take place during lunch or right after work can reduce the amount of alcohol ingested.
  • During

  • Limit the quantity of drink tickets that are available to each employee as a way to control how many beverages are served to your workers
  • Serve only wine and beer. Don’t serve hard liquor
  • Provide a range of activities so that drinking is not the main draw
  • Close the bar early if you are hosting an evening function to deter excessive drinking
  • Select a person to keep an eye on workers who are leaving the celebration to ensure people are not driving home drunk
  • Do not allow staff to serve themselves or have direct access to the alcohol
  • Employees should only be served drinks by bartenders who have received Proserve certification
  • Provide a range of free non-alcoholic beverages and food
  • After

  • Make sure that everyone who works there, or is a guest of an employee, can travel home safely. Give them a taxi chit or pay for their taxi or other ride share program
  • Encourage that people go directly home following the event and do not go to an after party
  • Pay for a taxi so people can come back the next day and pick up their car
  • How can AMTA help?

    AMTA can provide members with one-on-one guidance on how to help manage your WCB premiums. If you have any questions, please contact AMTA and our experienced staff will be happy to help.  For your WCB, Safety, Compliance, and Human Resources questions, please email Workplace Support Services at wss@amta.ca or contact us at 1-800-267-1003.