March 5, 2003by Israel Foulon LLP
Question: The employer (a college campus) has various locations on the employer’s premises at which alcohol may be consumed, such as pubs and bars. If employees consume alcohol at lunch while at one of these places, and then return to work and injure someone or get into an accident, who bears the responsibility for any resulting loss or damages? What if the employer provides alcohol to its employees?
Answer: Employers must be very careful when dealing with the consumption of alcohol by employees either at employer-sponsored events or on work premises. An employer has a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of its employees, patrons and the public that come into contact with them and therefore an employer may be held liable for damages caused by intoxicated employees.
In a case such as yours, where alcohol consumption is regularly permitted on the employer’s premises, it would be a good idea for the employer to implement a strict policy prohibiting employees from drinking alcohol during working hours while the employee is on duty. Such a policy should be made known to all employees and must be consistently enforced.
An employer who becomes aware of an employee who is under the influence of alcohol while at work, or that consumption of alcohol is interfering with his ability to perform his job, should take immediate disciplinary action against the employee.
In B.C. an employer was held liable for an accident caused by one of its employees in which the victim became a quadriplegic. The court found the employer was 75 per cent liable for the actions of its employee who caused the accident after he had consumed significant quantities of alcohol throughout the day, both while he was at work and after he had left.
The employer had provided dinner, which included a substantial amount of beer, to the employee. After leaving work the employee stopped at two other pubs where several more drinks were consumed.
The court based its finding of liability against the employer in part on the fact the employer required the employee to bring his car to work and therefore knew he would be driving home. By requiring the employee to drive to work, and then providing him with alcohol, the employer had failed in its duty towards the accident victim. The employer had not only failed to monitor the employee’s alcohol consumption, but it had also taken no steps to prevent him from driving drunk.
The question of who would bear the responsibility should injury or damage result because of the act of an intoxicated employee is not completely clear and depends on the circumstances in each case. But it is clear an employer can be held liable for the acts of its employees where the employer is aware the employee is intoxicated and takes inadequate steps to ensure the safety of both the employee and others.
The obligation of an employer is even higher where the employer has served the alcohol to the employee. Employers should exercise extreme caution when dealing with the consumption of alcohol at work-related events including monitoring alcohol consumption, providing taxi chits and preventing employees from driving home while intoxicated.
Peter Israel is the senior partner in the Toronto law firm of Israel Foulon LLP – Employment and Labour Lawyers. He can be reached at 416-640-1550 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this article originally appeared in the Carswell publication, Canadian Employment Law Today