Serve alcohol responsibly or risk liability

by 27 Feb 2012

Serve alcohol responsibly or risk liabilityMixing alcohol and employees often results in a headache for HR and employers – serving alcohol at work functions can be akin to running a gauntlet because irresponsible service of alcohol can result in a minefield of potential litigation.

According to law firm Sparke Helmore, litigation can be avoided by ensuring that alcohol is ‘served responsibly’, namely by complying with all workplace health and safety legislation, and ultimately not putting the health, safety or welfare of employees (or others at an employer’s place of work) at risk. “Responsible service implies that, for example, employees have been advised to be careful and responsible about their consumption of alcohol, to respect others when they have consumed alcohol, [and] may include some supervision or monitoring of consumption at the conclusion of the event.”

Notably, whether it is an event at an employer’s premises, at a venue, or at an employee’s own premises, if employees are required or encouraged to be present, the employers’ obligations under the work, health and safety legislation remain the same. Roland Hassall, senior workplace consultant at Sparke Helmore lawyers, advised the following guidelines for responsible service of alcohol:

  • Ensuring the bar tab is proportionate to the number of people at the event
  • Limiting high content alcoholic drinks
  • Not permitting ‘shots’ or ‘double’ drinks
  • Having designated managers responsible for the event ensure appropriate workplace behaviour at the event and that arrangements have been made for the conclusion of the event
  • Careful communication about when the event ceases and what transport facilities will be make available, if appropriate
  • Not putting on an unlimited tab; and
  • Making employees aware that if they choose to go to another venue or carry on in evening that the firm’s involvement and responsibility ceases at the end of the event

When an injury arises during the course of employment, the Workers Compensation Act 1987 is the relevant body of law. Notably, the relevant provisions state that a personal injury received by an employee on any journey (for the purposes of the Act) is an injury arising out of or in the course of employment and compensation is payable accordingly. “This will include the usual daily journeys between an employees’ home and place of employment and, in our opinion, liability under the Act is unlikely to be excluded merely if there is a short period of informal after work drinks on the journey home,” Hassall commented.

Importantly, employers should note that the Workers Compensation Act 1987 is generally not applicable is the injury is received during or after any ‘interruption of’ or ‘deviation from’ any such journey where it was made for a reason unconnected with the employee’s employment or for the purposes of the journey.

Sparke Helmore noted the significant body of law addressing ‘journey claims’ under the Workers Compensation Act and said while each case will depend on its own facts, effectively, the closer the tie between any works function and the employee’s requirement to be there as part of their employment, then the more likely there will be liability.

-Stephanie Zillman


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