Responsibilities Relating to the Serving of AlcoholThese guidelines are not intended to be taken as legal advice. In the event of concern or uncertainty regarding responsibilities at functions where alcohol will be served, advice must be sought from Legal Services.
There are numerous work-related functions sponsored by employers which involve the drinking of alcohol. Such things as "Friday night drinks", Christmas parties, social functions etc are likely to be attended by most employees at some time or another.
Whilst there are benefits which flow from this type of function, there are also some risks for the employer.
Employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace for their employees. Section 19(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires an employer to provide and maintain a working environment free from avoidable hazards. Further, the Act requires employers to provide such information, instruction, training and supervision of employees as is necessary to enable employees to perform their work in such a manner that they are not exposed to hazards. These duties may extend to:
- Function where the employer serves alcohol;
- Permitting the consumption of liquor by employees during business lunches or functions away from the place of work.
Examples of problems that can arise from such functions include vicarious liability in the case of sexual harassment, assault claims and the like.
There have been recent cases in Australia where publicans have been found liable for injury to intoxicated patrons even after they have left the premises. The Court has held it negligent for a publican to serve alcohol to a customer to the point of intoxication if it is reasonably foreseeable that to do so would cause danger to the intoxicated customer and to third parties who may be caused harm, loss or damage as a result of the customer's intoxication.
Whilst this case law relates to licensees' obligations, it is equally clear that an employer will be held liable for the wrongs of employees which may arise after the serving of alcohol. It is likely that this would also extend to injuries sustained by employees as a direct result of their intoxication following a work-related function.
Practical ways of mitigating the hazard posed by intoxicated employees includes:
- Education - let employees know that they are "still on duty", and to consume alcohol responsibly at work events.
- Employers should encourage staff to "look out for their colleagues and to ensure that they have a safe way to travel home.
- Limits - employers should impose reasonable limits on the amount of alcohol that is available. Soft drinks and food should be made available.
- Monitoring - employers must monitor the amount of alcohol consumed to ensure that things do not get out of hand, and to ensure that employees have a safe means of getting home after the function.