I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes, Cannabis is all around me, And so the feeling grows
It’s that time of the year again. Stores are assembling their Christmas decorations and online retailers are advertising accordingly: holiday season is here.
In addition to celebrating this time of year with friends and family over the season, many employers will hold holiday parties as a means of recognizing employee efforts and promoting a unified culture in the workplace. These festivities can take the form of team activities like skiing, group cooking classes, bake-offs, and often, catered dinners. No matter the main event, it is often customary and expected that alcohol will be served.
By now, (we hope!) most employers have a drug and alcohol policy which creates standards and expectations for employees’ use of recreational drugs and alcohol in the workplace and at work-sponsored events. However, with the legalization of cannabis in Canada last year, employers are now wondering how cannabis use may impact work events. A further complication is that some licensed edible products could hit store shelves as early as mid-December, 2019.
Employers must decide: if alcohol will be served, should cannabis be served as well? Our answer – probably not. As the host of a party, an employer has a duty to guests and attendants of their party, and may have a duty to third parties harmed by their guests/attendants, to ensure these individuals are reasonably safe during the event, and when leaving the event. Should an accident happen, the employer could be liable for injuries suffered by these individuals. For instance, if an impaired guest leaves the party and gets in a car accident, the employer host may be on the hook for any injuries and damages suffered by all of the parties.
While liability with the service of alcohol is somewhat established in the law, the potential liability resulting from any combined effects of alcohol and cannabis is yet unknown and therefore more uncertain: there are currently no decided legal cases on point dealing with this issue. That being said, it is not unreasonable to assume, based on already established social host liability principles, that any individual who becomes impaired at a work function, regardless of how that impairment comes about, and harms themselves or others, could expose the employer to liability.
Accordingly, the safest route for employers is to forego supplying any cannabis products to their guests. Employers should be aware, however, that even if the employer is not supplying the drug but knows, or ought to have reasonably known, that cannabis products are being consumed at the event, liability may still be imputed to the employer.
As such, we recommend the following steps be taken in preparation for any upcoming holiday celebrations in order to mitigate some risk to employers:
• Ensure you have updated drug and alcohol policies implemented with regard to substance use in the workplace and at work-sponsored events. These policies should have employee safety as its prime concern. Ensure that employees have been advised of the terms and that the employer’s expectations of impairment at work and at events are clear. Discipline for breaching the policy should be outlined therein. It is a good idea to circulate the policies in advance of any work-sponsored event and give employees an opportunity to ask any clarifying questions of HR. Once implemented, be sure to follow the policy.
• Hire a licensed bartender to serve drinks, rather than have guests self-serve. Ensure the bartender is monitoring individual consumption and is equipped to cut people off. Consider employing a ticket system to limit the number of drinks consumed, rather than hosting an open bar.
• Consider closing the bar before the end of the party, and make tea, coffee, snacks and water available for guests before the party ends.
• Serve food and non-alcoholic beverages throughout the event.
• If the employer suspect guests might consume cannabis products at the party outside of the premises (i.e., smoking/vaping), or add cannabis products to their food or drinks, specifically address these types of situations in your drug and alcohol policy, and remind guests of your stance on these specific situations before the party.
• Provide an easy way for employees to depart the party that does not require them to drive home. The best way to do this is to make sure all guests are equipped with taxi chits before they leave the party.
For clarity, we note that this article is intended to be read with regard to recreational use of cannabis and does not comment on medicinal use.