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FEATURE OF THE WEEK: Drawing the line – Planning an employee party? Keep legal issues in mind

Christmas parties, company picnics and driver appreciation days can all play important roles in maintaining an...

Christmas parties, company picnics and driver appreciation days can all play important roles in maintaining and improving company morale. But when you’re planning social events on behalf of your fleet, it’s also important to consider some of the legal issues that can arise if alcohol is being served.

An employee who drinks to excess and becomes involved in an accident could have grounds for a lawsuit; the free flow of sexist jokes in a social atmosphere can be the foundation of complaints to the Human Rights Commission.

Still, Maureen Boyd, counsel with B.C.-based McCarthy Tetrault, suggests that fleets don’t have to abandon all their traditions because of legal concerns. It’s simply a matter of applying some common sense.
If alcohol is being served at a company party, the consumption should be controlled, she says, noting that this can be accomplished by distributing a pre-selected number of drink tickets (about three per evening), and offering a cash bar for anything else.

“I really am a fan of limiting the amount of free booze they can get,” she says. “People don’t drink as much when they have to pay for it.”

It may also be worthwhile to hire a professional bartender to serve drinks at the event. They’ve been trained to know when and how to serve patrons. For that matter, if your own employees are asked to work the bar, they may be put in the awkward position of having to cut off a co-worker or superior.

Invitations should also remind employees to drink responsibly, and the offer of a taxi chit or transit tickets will help ensure that they arrive home safely at the end of the event. “It’s a pretty small cost compared to having an employee in a car accident, and it’s a reminder to employees not to drink and drive.”

Another issue can be the lewd behavior that can accompany intoxication. In general, the same rules that apply to the workplace have to apply to the office party.

“The conversation may take a decidedly male turn,” Boyd says, referring to such things as sexist or racist jokes that can begin once the drinks begin to flow. But the Human Rights Code outlines the basis for complaints about harassment or inappropriate conduct, including race, colour ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age.

Then there’s the question of whether you should even use the phrase “Christmas party” when planning a seasonal event a diverse workplace. Boyd says you don’t have to be carried away.

“But be more sensitive to the fact that this isn’t 1960 and most people in the room cannot be assumed to be of the Christian decent,” she says. That means you could be crossing the line with a display of overt religious symbols at the venue.

For more information, go to

The Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) is an incorporated non-profit organization with a volunteer Board of Directors that is representative of stakeholders from the Canadian trucking industry. With the conviction that the best human resources skills and practices are essential to the attainment of excellence by the Canadian trucking industry, the mission of the Council is “to assist the Canadian trucking industry to recruit, train and retain the human resources needed to meet current and long-term requirements.” For more information, go to

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