Many employees expect alcohol to be served at work holiday parties or social functions. Some companies embrace a Friday beer cart or beer fridge to try to boost morale. However fun these ideas may seem, the risks of allowing alcohol in the workplace can outweigh the benefits.
What are the risks of serving alcohol to employees?
Employers are responsible to ensure the safety of their employees. Providing alcohol in the workplace or at work sanctioned events can open up an employer to a lot of risk. Regardless if the alcohol is being served off site at a private venue, the employer remains liable to ensure the safety of its employees. Where employees have consumed alcohol at a work function and hurt themselves as a result of that consumption, the employer will be held liable. For example, in the case of Hunt v. Sutton Group Incentive Realty, an employee consumed alcohol at a work Christmas party. The employee left the party and then went to a bar and continued to drink. The employee then attempted to drive home from the bar but got into a car accident and suffered a brain injury. The employee was successful in suing the employer for negligence. There are many other similar cases where the courts have found employers liable when employees who have been injured as a result of drinking at a work sanctioned event.
In addition to the obvious concerns of drunk driving, employers should be concerned that serving alcohol in the workplace can raise issues of addiction. Serving alcohol at work functions can create an unsafe space for those struggling with alcohol addiction/dependency or recovering from it.
Another danger that comes along with the consumption of alcohol at work events is the riskier behaviours and poor judgement calls that can come along with drinking. There is an increased risk of violent and harassing behaviours if employees are served alcohol.
What are the best practises when serving alcohol at a work event?
Not serving alcohol at social functions can prove to be a very unpopular decision. So, if you are going to allow alcohol consumption to be a part of your company’s social culture, ensure that you have a rigorous policy that detail when alcohol is allowed at work sanctioned events or meetings, how it can be consumed, and measures to ensure that employees are safe while consuming alcohol. Emphasize that over consumption is never acceptable.
Steps to minimize risk when serving alcohol at work events
Below are some steps that you can take to minimize the risk associated with serving alcohol at work events:
- Circulate the company alcohol policy in advance of events where alcohol will be served to remind employees of the expected behaviours while drinking. Make sure that they are aware of ways to get home safely. If there is no policy in place, still circulate a reminder that if employees choose to consume alcohol, to drink responsibly, do not over consume and to not drink and drive. Employees should also be reminded of the company code of conduct and that any type of harassing behaviors as a result of drinking will not be condoned.
- Ensure that all employees have a safe way to get home. Provide them with either a taxi chip to get home or cover their hotel stay.
- Limit the number of drinks that are served to employees by limiting the number of drink tickets available per employee.
- Consider only serving beer and wine and no hard liquor.
- Make sure that drinking is not the focus of company events. Have a variety of food and non-alcoholic drink options available at no cost to the employee. Also have a variety of activities available so that drinking is not the main event.
- Only allow bartenders with a Smart Serve certification to serve drinks to employees. Never allow employees to serve each other or themselves. Do not have a fridge filled with alcohol available for employees to help themselves.
- Think about the timing of the functions where you are serving alcohol. Events that happen over lunch or immediately after work hours can decrease the amount of alcohol that is consumed. If you are doing an event in the evening, close the bar early to discourage over consumption.
- Designate someone to monitor employees who are leaving the party. They should watch to ensure that those employees who are intoxicated are using a safe way to get home.
Employee policies are more than a list of rules. We are experts in putting together manuals and handbooks that communicate your workplace structures and processes. Looking for a place to start? Our Policy List, (found at essentialhr.ca/policy+list) will help guide you in deciding what policies would be helpful and relevant to your organization!