Corporate Holiday Party Time

It’s that time of year again!  Holiday parties are in full swing.  While the focus is on celebration and cheer, employers must keep in mind that without proper planning, the celebrations may result in legal liability.

Aside from excessive drinking at work functions, the most common legal issue employers face is sexual harassment, an issue that has garnered much attention in 2017.

In Ontario, Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Plan Act, which became law in 2016, brought workplace sexual harassment within the realm of occupational health and safety.  Under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”), an employer is obligated to maintain a harassment-free workplace.  A “workplace” includes work-related social events.  Specifically, employers are mandated to have in place a policy and program related to harassment (which includes sexual harassment) and to provide related training to their employees.

With the casual environment of the office party, often combined with alcohol, employers may reduce the risks associated with harassment by considering the following:

  • Ensure that there is a written harassment policy, and that it clearly applies to all work-related social events.
  • Remind employees that company policies and codes of conduct continue to apply at work-related social events, and that failure to observe them could lead to disciplinary action.
  • Extend invitations to  spouses, significant others and clients.
  • If alcohol will be served, take steps to limit consumption.  For example, avoid the facilitation of pre or post drinking activities, drinking games and open bars.
  • Consider alcohol-free daytime holiday parties.
  • Set clear start and finish times for the party, indicating that any after parties are not employer-endorsed.
  • Make travel arrangements for employees to get home safely.
  • Have a dedicated and sober member of management in attendance to oversee the festivities.

Angela Khoury is an employment lawyer and associate at Singh Lamarche LLP.  She can be reached at: angela@singhlamarche.com or at 647-799-0499.