[Mythbuster] I'm Not Liable for Drunk Driving & Employee Conduct at Company Events

By Kathryn Adderley
31 Oct 2019

As the end of the year draws closer the number of company parties increase.

Whether you barely recognise national holidays in work time, or decorate the office from top to bottom, most of you will have a gathering to thank your employees for another year of hard work.

But, when you involve alcohol, things can get out of hand. Not only that, you may be liable for any mishaps or misdemeanours.

To avoid ending the year on a sour note, here’s a few things to consider…

Employee conduct at company events

What am I liable for?

You could be vicariously liable for any damage caused by drunken employees. You may also be liable for any injury caused too.

A recent case saw a group of employees get drunk and start brawling. The employer dismissed the staff involved. These employees then took their employer to tribunal. Who won the case? The employees. Why? They argued that the employer had provided a free bar, and therefore condoned their behaviour.

An employer isn’t automatically liable for assault involving their employees. Each case will be dependent on the facts. In the above case, the provision of free alcohol meant the employer was considered liable, which raises the question…

Should I serve alcohol at all?

The trick is minimising your legal liability without impacting the enjoyment of your employees. You don’t want a dull party. But, you also don’t want to be held responsible for someone getting punched.

So how do you do this?

Prior to any event, make sure all employees are aware that drinking to excess is unacceptable during company events. You can even include alcohol usage guidance in your communications.

If you’re still worried, you can put restrictions on what (and how much) is available. For example, if you just serve beer and wine, you’ll be able to assess how much alcohol employees are drinking more easily. Or, you could introduce a coupon system that entitled each employee to a limited amount of drinks.

Finally, don’t make alcohol the star of the show. Offer other, non-alcoholic drinks, and instead make the focus of the party something else: speeches, games, activities, entertainment, or team-building, the possibilities are endless.

And, of course, you don’t have to serve alcohol if you’d rather not. Keeping everyone sober is usually the safest bet.

What about drunk driving, am I liable?

Again, this would be dependent on the facts. Your liability in a drink driving scenario would largely depend on whether employees’ actions are within the course of their employment.

What does this mean?

Essentially, if an employee is expected to attend an event as part of their role, they could argue that driving to and from the event is part of their job. However, if the event was purely voluntary, then it would be significantly more difficult to argue that case.

If you remind employees of the behaviour expected of them, and take measures to prevent excessive consumption of alcohol, this will also work in your favour.

For extra safety, you could provide information to employees on alternative methods of travel, and details of nearby hotels. You could even pay for taxis to ensure all employees get home safely.

So, am I liable for drunk driving?

Potentially yes.

However, if you follow the steps above, not only do you make an accident less likely, you’ll protect yourself against those who try to bring a claim against you.

Plus, if you plan carefully, you won’t have to worry about liability on the day of the party. Hopefully, you’ll be able to have fun—that’s what parties are for, after all.


About the Author

Kathryn Adderley

Kathryn Adderley is Croner's Senior Content Executive, responsible for producing, sourcing, and organising content across the website. She has a background of working agency side as a copywriter in the marketing industry and is also responsible for Croner's social media channels, so keep your eyes peeled for fresh content!

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