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Employer Responsibility: 5 Do’s and Don’ts for Holiday Parties


The holiday season is officially here and that means employees get to relax, enjoy themselves, and celebrate their hard work done over the year.

But before the party gets going, it’s important that employers know the risks involved and ensure they are taking precautions to make sure everyone is safe. While businesses look forward to this time of year, there are often concerns about what employers are responsible for and how far their duty of care extends.

Do be clear on your responsibilities for hosting an office holiday party

Employers can be held liable for the actions of their employees during holiday parties if they are reasonably predictable and the company has not taken all reasonable steps to prevent them. An example of this is intoxicated behaviour at a party where the company is providing alcohol. Employers need to take steps to manage this and ensure that their employees know what is expected of them during the event.

While intoxicated behaviour during the party is the company’s responsibility, as soon as employees are no longer at the event, employers are not liable for their behaviour. To think of it simply, employers should compare their obligations at a work function as you would the office—responsibility is for how people behave at work but not when they are travelling home.

Don’t make the party mandatory

Feeling obligated to attend a party can prevent attendees from enjoying the afternoon or evening. Additionally, at such a busy time of year, it’s likely that not everyone will be able to attend and that many will already be away on vacation. A better approach is to encourage employees to attend, market the event by outlining activities, and ask for RSVPs to estimate a headcount.

Do communicate a code of conduct

Once you have the date and time finalized and a final list of attendees, it may be a good idea to send out a formal e-invite. The party invitation should also set down the code of conduct for the party. You should make it clear that the disciplinary procedures for misconduct at a virtual party are the same as for an in-person event.

Clearly communicate that any unacceptable behaviour, including violation of bullying and harassment policies, will be subject to disciplinary procedure just as it would in the workplace. Employers should also emphasize that the company has the right to investigate any activities outside of work which could have a detrimental impact within the workplace afterwards.

You may also want to clarify that while social media use is permissible at office social events, it should not be done in a way that reflects poorly on the company.

Don’t forget about your policy for office romance

The relaxed atmosphere and access to alcohol at parties can sometimes lead to inappropriate circumstances such as colleagues flirting with one another. However, flirting with coworkers can cause discomfort and even be considered harassment. Remind staff that holiday parties are professional events and that it’s best to save any romance for outside of the workplace. For more tips, here is a guide to managing office romances.

Do encourage responsible drinking

One of the best ways to minimize issues at holiday parties is to encourage responsible drinking. Employers should try to limit the amount of free alcohol available to each person and ensure that bar staff are instructed to refuse to serve alcohol where appropriate. They should also consider allowing unlimited pop to all employees while also keeping the amount of free alcohol within a responsible level.

Don’t make it a work meeting

While it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate your team’s hard work during the year, employers should remember to not let their holiday party become a work meeting. Instead, make sure the evening is about connecting with co-workers and having fun.

Do have a designated driver system

Companies should consider having designated non-drinkers from the management team who will be responsible for dealing with any issues that occur at the party. Communication prior to the event offering taxi coupons and reminding workers not to drink and drive are also some ways that employers can encourage a safe ride home.

Still have questions about creating a drug and alcohol policy for your workplace?

Whether your company needs advice on liability during work events or is looking to create a brand-new drug and alcohol policy, Peninsula’s HR advisors will help you create custom-tailored policies for your specific business needs. To receive answers and support for your HR and health & safety needs, call us today at: 1 (833) 247-3652.