Ask a Lawyer: Is HR at risk if employees drive home drunk?

The Christmas party often comes with alcohol so does HR have a responsibility to stop staff driving home?

Ask a Lawyer: Is HR at risk if employees drive home drunk?
Whether it’s in the office or at an external venue, work Christmas parties often include a supply of alcohol – so what happens if your employees indulge in a few drinks then attempt to drive home?

Sherridan Cook is a partner with top law firm Buddle Findlay – he says employers generally aren’t responsible for their employees getting home but the situation could be different if they’ve actively provided the alcohol.

“If you’ve put on a function, such as a Christmas party, and you supplied a lot of alcohol and continued to supply that knowing people were drunk and knowing they were going to be driving home or had access to their cars, then employers could potentially be at risk,” he says.

“Employees being intoxicated and causing themselves harm as a result of a work function is a potential risk under the Health and Safety at Work Act so it’s something you as a PCBU should be taking steps to address and control,” he continues.

According to Cook, the key is fairly simple – “It’s about being a responsible host, recognising that there’s a potential risk of excessive alcohol consumption by employees, and planning the event in such a way that mitigates that risk,” he tells HRD.

“If it’s the end of year Christmas party where everybody is letting loose, you’ll want to think and providing food so staff aren’t drinking on an empty stomach, cutting the alcohol off at a certain time, and making sure there’s one or more people in a managerial position who are not drinking or who are not drinking to excess and can keep an eye on staff,” he advises.

“It’s also important that those managers and even other staff know that they can intervene if they see something going wrong, such as an employee who has their car keys ready or is going to the car park but has obviously been drinking too much,” he continues.

“Those staff should be able to say ‘Okay, we’ll take your keys, get a taxi home on the company.”
In fact, Cook says employers should seriously consider providing transport for employees anyway.

“We always provide taxi chits to our staff for our Christmas parties and of course that depends on the employer and its resources but if you’re spending a whole lot of money ensuring your staff have a good night out, then I’d suggest paying for a taxi home or at least providing a transport subsidy.”


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