Parties@work : let it be a joy for everyone

Are you as an employer responsible for accidents or damages?


December and January are the months par excellence for office parties. Most of the time these parties go smoothly, without too much difficulties. But what if a problem occurs? In this contribution we list a few tips to avoid problems so that you as an employer can enjoy the party without worries.

At office parties, alcohol is usually served and consumed. The raising of a glass on the ending of the old year or beginning of the new year (or any other occasion) is usually part of it.

But what if at a certain moment, an employee had one too much and is not able to react adequately and causes an accident or damage?

Who is responsible, the employee or the employer? Are you obliged to intervene as an employer?

As an employer (and employee) you better be prepared and be vigilant for a number of things, so that a party remain a party for everyone.

1. Alcohol policy – Don’t forget CLA 100

In principle, every employer is obliged to establish a preventive alcohol and drug policy. This does not only apply to the employees, who are related to the employer through an employment agreement but also to other persons treated as such, like students and interns (applicants and external service providers are excluded).

CLA 100 creates a minimal framework that must be met for such a policy. The employer himself must fill in the rest taking into consideration the culture, the size and the needs of the enterprise. In a nutshell, as an employer you have the ultimate responsibility. Elements such as the basic princoples, the goals and the policy statements, including practical measures must be made part of the working regulation.

While establishing such a global policy, it is in your interests as an employer to devote a section to "office parties" and "special occasions".

2. What in case of an accident at work?

An accident on the way to or from a staff party is never excluded. However, other accidents can quickly happen at a staff party as well, for example on the dance floor, accidents caused by some object or by another employee.

If an employee suffers a physical injury at a staff party, you, as an employer, will be held responsible.

Regarding the question if an accident is qualified as an accident at work (occupational accident) when the employee suffers from a physical injury on his way home, there exists a debate within case law. The qualification remains a question of facts: was the employee drunk? Did the employee go home right away after the party?

The venue and the (point in) time of the party do not matter. Mostly, according to case law, attending a staff party is equated as "work performance" on the basis of a number of cumulative criteria such as the fact that the party is paid by the employer, existence of a moral pressure to attend the party, the employer’s authority during the party and the fact that supervisory staff is present as well.

Employers should consider this when organising a party for their employees. Therefore, should you as an employer desire to organise an office party, it is advisable to explicitly and clearly communicate beforehand that the employer cannot be held liable for any activity after the party.

3. What else can you do as an employer?

3.1 Besides the establishment of a preventive alcohol and drugs policy, you can take other beneficial measures to encourage your employees to keep the use of alcohol under control, by for example:

  • Making reference to the alcohol policy in the invitation to the party;
  • In advance, making your employees aware of the consequences of excessive alcohol use at the workplace and beyond;
  • Reducing the number of alcohol units (or by not serving any alcohol at all);
  • The use of skilled servicing staff who can react properly when someone crosses the consumption line;
  • Ensuring that there are sufficiently non-alcoholic drinks (and not only at the bar);
  • Ensuring that there is enough food so the employees do not only consume alcohol;
  • Providing with non-committal alcohol tests at departure;
  • ...

3.2 Besides the limitation of alcohol use, you can take also following measures as an employer:

In the first place, you can monitor (or have monitored) in order to detect if any staff members have consumed too much alcohol.

Besides a preventive alcohol policy, take other appropriate measures as well…

Furthermore, you can provide with suitable transport (carpool, call upon specialised organisations such as “Responsible Young Drivers”, shuttle busses, and likewise) in case your employees have consumed too much alcohol than allowed. Eventually, a cost of a taxi does not outweigh the cost of potential damaging consequences and prevents you from being held responsible.

As an employer, you must also not forget that you can be held liable for material damages caused by an employee. Only in case of fraud, severe fault and light fault that occur with the employee on a habitual basis than by accident, the employee will have to repay the damage himself.

3.3 Lastly, as an employer, you can (explicitly) state that the presence at the party is not mandatory (free of obligations) and you can limit the party time by indicating a starting and ending hour.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Would you like to learn more about this subject?

Contact our experts or telephone +32 (0)2 747 40 07
Leila Mstoian

Leila Mstoian