Northern Exposure

Party Time

McCarthy Tetrault

Q. When a company holds a social outing for employees and alcohol is served, what are the legal risks? How can potential liability be minimized?

A. Parties and other social events provide employers with an opportunity to reward employees and let them interact with coworkers outside of the office. Unfortunately, they also create some risk because you could be liable for the actions of your employees and guests who, for example, drink too much, harass guests or other employees, and become a danger to themselves and others. What can you do to minimize the risk? Here are some tips:

  • Hold your event outside of work hours and off site, a place such as a restaurant or banquet center that you hire for the event.
  • Have a company representative inspect the site and make sure that the staff is properly trained to identify and deal with patrons who become intoxicated.
  • Make it clear to the event staff that your company doesn’t want anyone who appears intoxicated to be served alcohol.
  • Make nonalcoholic drinks readily available. It’s a good idea to make the nonalcoholic drinks free of charge.
  • Consider having a cash bar. If that’s not acceptable, try other strategies to limit consumption. Perhaps provide partygoers with a couple of complimentary drink tickets and charge them for additional drinks.
  • Limit the length of the social event to two or three hours.
  • Stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the party ends. Then serve nonalcoholic drinks and additional food.
  • Provide safe — and free — transportation for anyone who may have had too much to drink. You might want to station someone near the exit to make sure that everyone leaving can receive a taxi coupon.
  • Before your event, let your employees and other guests know that transportation will be provided to those unfit to drive themselves. Make sure they understand that anyone appearing intoxicated must use that service. Don’t even allow someone who appears intoxicated to walk home.
  • Make sure employees understand that company policies and practices continue to apply during the social event.