The season of the office holiday party is upon us! In addition to merriment, this time of year can bring a lot of risk for employers. A new risk this year comes in the form of Prime Minister Trudeau’s legal recreational cannabis and Premier Ford’s relaxed consumption laws. In addition to monitoring intoxication levels from alcohol consumption, employers will now be tasked with monitoring for the added risk of impairment created by cannabis. Employees can now legally step out of the party to enjoy something a little stronger than a post-dinner cigarette!

Social host liability, always a hot blog topic this time of year, now has this added element. Employers, who can be held liable for accidents that happen as a result of overly intoxicated party goers, now need to educate themselves on how to monitor for cannabis impairment or combined alcohol/cannabis impairment.

If this sounds like enough to make you want to institute a dry brunch party, we don’t blame you. The fact is, however, that many employees look forward to the holiday party. It’s also a nice time to meet employees’ families and to say thank you for their hard work and their families support.

What’s a Party Host to Do?

What should employers in the legal cannabis era do? As always, employers need to take precautions to ensure that their parties are safe and that they have taken reasonable steps to ensure that everyone behaves appropriately and gets home safe. This can include ensuring that alcohol is served by a licensed bartender, trained to spot impairment and comfortable cutting people off, providing free transportation to and from the event and providing non-alcoholic options and fun “mocktails” so that employees don’t feel social stigma if they chose not to drink. Employers should also be proactive in addressing the potential for the use of cannabis, recognizing that it is legal and social stigma-wise should be on par with drinking alcohol and it may not be appropriate to ban it outright.

Just as we recommend for the workplace, have a member of the management team trained to spot signs of cannabis impairment. This person (lucky them) should be on duty at the party keeping an eye out for impaired guests. Employers should not allow impaired guests to leave the party without a safe way home. Cannabis and alcohol can combine to heighten impairment.

Employer policies should address legal drug and alcohol use, both in the workplace and at employer-sponsored events. Ensure that these policies are followed at the holiday party. Employers and senior management should practice what they preach and should be reminded of the overall tone they will set. While this can be a challenge in flatter organizations where the boss is very young, the negative memory of missteps will long outlast the temporary restraint recommended for the workplace holiday party. But don’t forget to still have fun in the midst of it all!