Alcohol And Your Obligations As An Employer

By Greg Pratch
Categories: Blog, Employment Law

This is the time of year when companies throw various social events to enjoy the Okanagan lifestyle with their employees, including golf tournaments, beach parties and family picnics. These events can be very successful, but employers need to be aware that they have legal obligations when alcohol is part of the event.

There is a trend in the law to hold employers responsible for employees that leave events intoxicated. This includes events held on and off work premises, events where the employer has purchased the alcohol and serves it, or even events where the employer has paid an establishment to serve alcohol (ie. a golf course, catered picnic, etc.).While no one is suggesting cancelling the company golf tournament this year, there are some things that employers can do to minimize their exposure to liability. Overall, the courts suggest that employers must take ‘reasonable’ steps to ensure that their employees are not over-served or intoxicated and that they are not allowed to drive home from business sponsored events if they are. Depending on numerous factors including your industry, corporate culture and the type of event, the following suggestions may assist you in planning a safe and accident-free summer social:
 
  • Do not serve alcohol at company events;
  • Have a strong corporate policy in place;
  • Do not allow management to drink with the employee’s;
  • Do not make social events for employees mandatory;
  • Adopt a zero tolerance policy for consumption of alcohol in the workplace;
  • Provide non-alcoholic beverages and food;
  • Host events away from the workplace (i.e. go to a restaurant or hotel);
  • Do not encourage drinking alcohol (i.e no drinking games);
  • Plan events so drinking is limited (i.e. provide only 1 ticket per guest);
  • Communicate with employees prior to each event that intoxication is not condoned or permitted and that drinking and driving is dangerous and will not be tolerated;
  • If an employee does not follow the policy or expected standard of behavior then they should be subject to sanctions – the business must show that they are serious about enforcing their policies.
  • Refuse to serve intoxicated guests;
  • Provide an alternate means of transportation home (i.e. pay for taxi’s or put a designated driver program in place);
  • Provide accommodations for intoxicated guests;
  • Confiscate vehicle keys from intoxicated guests; and
  • Call police if the person refuses to listen and attempts to drive home while intoxicated.
 It is up to you as the employer to determine which of these or other courses of action you want to take to keep your employees safe and limit your own liability. If you are planning an event that includes alcohol and you have specific questions about your legal obligations as an employer you should consult legal counsel.
 
Greg Pratch is a lawyer at Pushor Mitchell LLP. You can contact Greg at (250) 869-1194, or at pratch@pushormitchell.com.