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The Return of the Holiday Party – Shining a Light on Your Responsibilities

02 December 2022 - Canada 1 min read

For many companies, the holiday party will be back in force this season after a two-year absence due to the pandemic. 

While many workplaces are still in remote or hybrid mode, holding an in-person gathering is a welcome event for many. Whether or not they have been financially affected by Covid-19, many companies face the challenge of employee cohesion and creating and maintaining a sense of belonging in the workplace. While holding a holiday party can have a unifying effect, any slippage that occurs can have the opposite effect.

With a Party Comes Responsibility 

When an employer organizes a holiday party for its employees, the party becomes an extension of the workplace. No matter where the party takes place or happens outside of regular business hours, a situation might arise that could make the employer liable. 

At any company event, the employer must ensure it complies with its obligations regarding psychological harassment, including sexual harassment, and take reasonable steps to prevent it. Any reported incident must be dealt with immediately. While psychological harassment usually refers to repeated behaviour, a single, serious action may be sufficient in some cases. Even if an incident does not meet all the criteria of harassment within the letter of the law, the employer can certainly intervene in cases where there is reprehensible behaviour.

The obligations of the employees are also part of the celebration. It’s expected employees behave respectfully and civilly, just as in their regular work environment.

The employer should immediately intervene to stop inappropriate employee behaviour and, if necessary, impose appropriate disciplinary measures. For example, in a recent case in Quebec, an arbitration tribunal upheld the dismissal of a transit inspector who violently struck his supervisor in the parking lot following a Christmas party.

Even when an employee engages in improper conduct towards a third party during a holiday party organized by the employer, the employer may impose an appropriate sanction. In another case involving a holiday party, an arbitration tribunal upheld the three-day suspension and loss of bonus imposed on an employee who made a sexual gesture towards a staff member at the holiday party.

Tips to Keep the Party a Party

It’s well known that unfortunate events at a holiday party are often the result of heavy drinking or drug use. While the employer cannot prevent everything, there are a few things it can do to increase the chances the party will remain enjoyable for everyone:

  • Send out a reminder to staff a few days ahead of the party, highlighting applicable policies (harassment, civility, drugs, cannabis use in all forms, etc.) and the expectation of compliance with these policies
  • Limiting alcohol consumption:
    • Provide a variety of non-alcoholic beverages
    • Use a drink ticket system
    • Avoid having an open bar or close the bar a reasonable time before the party ends
    • Provide employees with a Breathalyzer
  • Provide safe options for getting home:
    • Implement a designated driver system or service
    • Group cabs
    • Taxi chits or fare reimbursement
    • Drive-home service
    • Hotel room if circumstances warrant it
  • Ensure managers set an example
  • Intervene quickly when necessary, including during the party
  • Investigate any reported events, if necessary

With these reminders in mind, take advantage of your holiday parties to reconnect with your respective teams and create a collegial atmosphere that will allow your company to forget the pandemic and help overcome the acute labour shortage.

Happy Holidays to all!

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