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It’s that time of year again…
…for the company Holiday party. For the last several years, our firm has held its Holiday party at the Southshore Community Centre in Barrie. It’s always a fun time with plenty of food, live music, and an open bar. As this time of year approaches, my mind turns to a case our firm had a few years ago involving a woman who became drunk at an office Christmas party, drove home, and was involved in a horrific crash that rendered her brain injured and totally disabled. Her name was Linda and she worked at a local real estate brokerage in Barrie. If you have lived in Ontario over the last 10 years then chances are you have heard of the case because it attracted national media coverage.
Most of the media attention was negative. The media’s ‘spin’ on the story was that a “drunk driver” should be held accountable for her actions. The media (and the general public) could not understand how a person could sue her employer for becoming drunk at an office party and then injuring herself in a car crash?
What the media did not communicate to the public was the fact that Linda was a receptionist and that she was working during the office party, which started in the afternoon. Her boss allowed workers to consume alcohol in the workplace, without any control or oversight. They had a casual self-serve open bar scenario. This get together was not a party being held off site, it was in the office. Other employees noticed Linda had too much to drink before she left in her vehicle, yet her boss thought she seemed fine.
The Judge ultimately found in Linda’s favour, however, he also found that she was 75% responsible for her own actions. In other words, she would only recover 25% of her damages as determined by the trial Judge. The case settled after the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial on the basis that the Judge erred in discharging the jury from the case.
The case highlighted the centuries old legal doctrine that “an employer has a duty to keep employees safe in the work place”. This century old principle is what Linda’s case was about and the media missed the point. Once an employer introduces alcohol into the workplace, then they better have a system in place to ensure that employees do not drive home impaired and injure themselves or injure someone else.
The lesson we learned from Linda’s case is that office parties should be held in a safe environment, especially if the employer has an open bar. How do you make them safe as an employer? That’s simple, hire professional staff to serve alcohol and hold your party at a place that is in the business of hosting parties. Because we offer an open bar at our Holiday party, we take the extra step and provide free taxi vouchers to every single employee. We forbid employees from drinking and driving and there is no reason to do so if everyone has free access to a taxi ride home.
Drinking and driving is a persistent social problem that may never be completely eradicated. Employers, in light of their special “master and servant” relationship with their employees must do their part in protecting their employees and the public if they are going to introduce alcohol into the workplace.
Linda’s case was unpopular at the time. However, the passage of time has shown that Holiday parties and Christmas parties did not disappear, they just became safer.
Oatley Vigmond is a proud sponsor of MADD Canada. Please drink responsibly this Holiday season. Cheers!
Robert M. Durante
A graduate of McGill University and Queen’s University Faculty of Law, Rob joined Oatley Vigmond shortly after his call to the bar in 1997. As a partner at Oatley Vigmond, Rob is committed to...Read Bio Read Articles
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