: Client Update - ‘Tis the Season Social Host Liability

December 2, 2011

With the holidays approaching, employers must remember their duty to ensure the health and safety of employees at social events. Recent cases from provincial courts in Alberta(i) and Manitoba(ii) emphasize that employers must be cognizant of both provincial statutes (i.e., occupational health and safety and liquor control legislation) and civil liability when planning social events for employees whether at or off workplace premises. Recent decisions confirm that employers fall into a category between “social host” and “commercial host”.  Thus, there is risk of common law liability if an employee drinks too much at an employer-hosted event.  When an employer is acting as a host, there is a positive duty to guard against over-consumption of alcohol by guests, and take reasonable steps to ensure that guests who become intoxicated do not cause harm to themselves or others.

Employers who are hosting functions where alcohol will be served must remember to use due diligence to ensure the safety of their employees and avoid liability.


  • Whenever possible, schedule work-related social events outside regular working hours;
  • Attendance should be voluntary;
  • Designate employer representatives, who must not drink, to oversee the event;
  • Hire a professional bartender, experienced in identifying intoxicated patrons, who knows that employees who are impaired must not be served;
  • Instruct the bartender to report signs of impairment to a designated employer representative;
  • Discourage over-consumption by supplying a limited number of drink tickets per person;
  • Ensure that food and non-alcoholic beverages are available;
  • Distribute taxi vouchers or arrange for another form of transportation (e.g., buses) – communicate these options to employees before and during the event;
  • Consider organizing accommodation at a hotel if weather conditions might affect an employee’s ability to drive;
  • Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the end of the event;
  • Arrange to have employer representatives or security staff members monitor guests as they leave.  Any employee who is visibly impaired must be prevented from driving.  The designated employer representative and security staff member should:
  • Insist that the impaired employee turn his or her car keys over; or,
  •  Call the impaired employee’s spouse or other family member to pick the employee up; or, if necessary, if the impaired employee remains intent on driving home – call the police.

(i)R. v. XI Technologies Inc.2011 ABPC 313 (CanLII)

(ii)R. v. Kostur (2011, MB, unreported)

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