Holiday office parties: booze and don’ts

Trouble can stem from the fact that offices host much more sexual tension than actual work. (Photo: iStock)
Trouble can stem from the fact that offices host much more sexual tension than actual work. (Photo: iStock)

The holidays are here and it is time to party. Whether one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or secular, we all tend to celebrate similarly: by getting drunk.

But if these festivities happen on company time at an office party, the unpredictable behaviour of the employees could spell trouble for the bosses.

Trouble can stem from the fact that offices host much more sexual tension than actual work, most of the time. Liquor-soaked office parties can seem, at the time, like the perfect opportunity to alleviate that unspoken force.

The spotlights of Hollywood have recently been fixed on the rampant workplace sexual harassment and assault committed by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. In 2016, the Occupational Health and Safety Act was amended to combat similar predatory behaviour from Canadian workplaces.

But you do not have to be a millionaire movie star for unwanted sexual advances to be unacceptable. Canadian employers are now obligated to provide workplaces free of sexual harassment, meaning they are liable for any inappropriate behaviour by their workers at a Christmas party. Any crossing the line is likely to be met with termination.

Sexual harassment seems like the most likely consequence of mixing liquor and coworkers but the physical safety of the workforce is also the responsibility of management.

In 2013, an Alberta employer rented a calf-roping machine for a party and was liable when that equipment killed an employee by accident.

In fact, the boss isn’t off the hook until their underlings are safe at home. Employers are expected to ensure that those who drink too much at an office party do not drive home afterwards.

It sounds paternalistic as if adults need babysitting but there are ways to provide a fun evening and ensure that no company-facilitated alcohol-related tragedies occur.

Reminding people more than once that they should not drink and drive, taking keys away from everyone as they arrive to be returned at the end or even providing taxis and hotel rooms for long-commuters.

No one wants to be anti-social in their alcohol consumption, at least at work, but it’s the nature of drinking that it can get away from us. Monitoring and intervening when someone’s getting hand may be awkward but may be what someone needs. At the end of the day, the company is on the hook.
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