The Responsibility of Employers where Alcohol at a Work-Related event has caused Personal Injury
Thinking of arranging a “Boozy-Party”? What is the employer’s responsibility to its employees when popping the cork at a work-related event?
As we approach the last quarter of the year, more employers are holding events for their employees; be it networking, boosting team ‘spirit’ or simply celebrating an achievement, it is a great way for employers to recognise an employee’s contribution, development, and determination.
Synonymous with such events, is often the warm welcome and easily accessibly free-flowing alcohol. However, with every unit consumed, comes greater exposure for the employer to a potential claim.
A substantial number of claims issued in the employment tribunals derive from work or social events where alcohol has been provided. At such events, an employer’s legal duty to ensure its employees are safe will continue as events outside working hours (inclusive of work and social events) can be rendered as an “extension” of the workplace. Hence, if an employee is injured at these events, an employer could be exposed to claims of: (a) negligence (b) breaches under health and safety legislation and (c) discriminatory acts by employers or employees!
An example of a work-event related injury is seen in the case of Clive Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited, where directors and other employees consumed a lot of alcohol throughout the work event. Later, after an argument, the director punched his employee, who consequently suffered brain injury. The Court of Appeal founded a “sufficiency of connection” and concluded that the director had acted in the course of his employment. Hence, the employer was liable for actions of the director (via vicarious liability).
Another example, which is working its way through the Courts involves PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who are faced with a £200,000 personal injury claim. Mr. Brockie (the employee) suffered brain injury, which led to having half his skull removed after he attended a work “pub golf” drinking game organised by his manager, which “encouraged excessive consumption of alcohol”. The employee now raises a claim of negligence against PwC for being liable for the negligence of his manager who organised the drinks and “failed to take reasonable care for the safety of co-workers”.
The claim against PwC and the judgment in Clive Bellman v Northampton indicate that an employer can still be found liable for an injury caused at a work event, where alcohol was supplied. Does this mean no more alcoholic beverages at work events?
Not necessarily, but bear in mind that an employer does have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their work activities.
Therefore, to ensure the safety of all, here are some top tips before you uncork the bottle to reduce the risk of alcohol related incidents within the workplace.
1. Be clear and transparent
You should inform employees that alcohol will be served at the event and provide guidance on the expected standards at work events and what is not acceptable. You may want to incorporate these terms and more in the invite and request an employee to sign the terms upon accepting the invite.
2. Keep an eye-out
As an employer, you should consider enforcing a drink-limit policy. You could offer drink vouchers rather than having an open bar, or if you are paying a bartender to serve your employees, to then ensure that the bartender abides by a drink-limit policy. You could also arrange a member (or more) of the management team to supervise monitoring staff and their alcohol intake.
3. Provide alternatives
Consider that not everyone in your team consumes alcohol, either for religious or other purposes. Therefore, you should provide alternatives to alcohol and not “encourage nor force” your employees to consume. Note, that failing to consider such matters might lead an employer faced with discrimination claims.
4. Returning home “safe and sound”
An employer responsibility could continue once the curtains have called. Whilst an employer does not have an obligation to provide transport for their employees’ journey home, a claim might arise if an employee was involved in accident whilst under the influence of alcohol. For everyone’s safety, you should consider providing transport home or advise employees to arrange safe transport for their journey home.
And finally. Risk Assess! The more you do to mitigate against accidents and injury, the stronger your position if an issue does arise.
The above top-tips should reduce the risk of liability, legal costs and injury to employees ensuring that everyone is having a great time and is staying safe. And as reminded, drink responsibly.
Footnote:  EWCA Civ 2214