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Limiting the Negative Impact of Alcohol Consumption

When we’ve reached the point in the year at which the falling leaves threaten to engulf a two-storey home, it’s time to re-visit the risks posed by holiday parties. Approaching those events with some forethought is a good strategy for avoiding the negative impact that alcohol consumption by employees can have.
 
The first aspect to address is the risk of injury to an employee – or someone else – as a result of alcohol consumption. Canadian court cases have firmly established the employer’s duty of care to take active steps to prevent injuries as a result of its employees’ alcohol consumption. 
 
If banning alcohol from staff events altogether isn’t satisfactory, there are steps the employer can take to reduce the likelihood of an accident. The employer should establish a policy, governing service and consumption of alcohol at company events.
 
The first objective of the policy is to put employees on notice that staff events are not an excuse for consuming alcohol to the point of posing a danger to themselves and others. The second objective is to establish some basic rules to ensure the manner in which the event is organized discourages excessive consumption.
 
The policy should state that the company opposes over-consumption and, in particular, opposes the operation of a vehicle (or engaging in other inherently dangerous activities) while impaired. It should emphasize that the purpose of the policy is to establish a protocol for responsible consumption of alcohol at staff events.
 
The policy should establish rules governing the hosting of company events where alcohol will be served. This is the part of the policy which is meant to manage the event’s organizers.  
 
The employer should distribute to its event organizers a list of instructions on how to, and how not to, organize a staff event. The organizers should be made to understand that organizing company events is considered to be an element of their employment. Disciplinary measures should be considered if the employees fail to follow established guidelines.
 
Employers should communicate to the employees, in writing, that they may attend on the conditions that they will accept responsibility for their own consumption, will moderate their intake of alcohol, and will co-operate to ensure their safety (and that of others). 
 
A selection of non-alcoholic beverages and substantial foods should be provided and guests should be encouraged to spend more time eating than drinking. The management team should be instructed to set a good example by remaining sober. 
 
Employers should consider demanding employees turn in their car keys as a condition of being served alcohol at the event. Telephone numbers for spouses or other family members can be obtained in advance in the event they need to be contacted.
 
The employer should appoint a trained person to monitor alcohol consumption and behaviour and to take action when impairment is detected. It should set and enforce strict limits on the number of drinks an employee may purchase (and be especially careful to eliminate “bulk” buying later in the evening) and ensure that the bar closes well prior to the end of the event.
 
The employer should not distribute free “drink tickets” or provide an “open” bar and definitely shouldn’t allow the employees to mix and pour their own drinks. It shouldn’t allow employees who are exhibiting outward signs of impairment to continue drinking. 
 
The employer should provide designated drivers or alternate means of transportation directly home for employees who have consumed alcohol. It shouldn’t be reluctant to contact the police immediately in the event a potentially impaired employee manages to leave unaccompanied.
 
The employer shouldn’t ever leave the decision of whether to drive in the hands of the potentially impaired employee. Most importantly, the employer shouldn’t allow a potentially impaired employee to leave the event unless accompanied by a designated driver (or by some other sober person) who has clear instructions to get the employee directly home.
 
 

 

 
Robert Smithson is a partner at Pushor Mitchell LLP in Kelowna practicing exclusively in the area of labour and employment law. For more information about his practice, log on to