Likely you’ve noticed that the holiday season is upon us! Often around this time of year, we’ve written a blog post about holiday office parties. Usually, these have revolved around topics like social host liability, drinking and sexual harassment. This year, many workplaces are eager to get the gang back together in person and have the additional consideration of COVID-19! What to do?!
Where to Party?
An easy option, which will allow employers to avoid having to reinvent the wheel, will be to have the holiday party at a restaurant. Restaurants know the local public health rules and you won’t have to ruin the night for your HR person by requiring them to be the mask police all night. Proof of vaccination is required to dine indoors in most jurisdictions and the restaurant will have a set-up for contract tracing and vaccination checks.
If you choose to have the party in your office or at another location, you’ll have to consider whether you’re going to require proof of vaccination to attend and determine how you will check this. You’ll also need to consider pre-screening questions, capacity limits, masking requirements and how you will handle food and drink. Capacity limits may be different if you require proof of vaccination vs if you do not.
Can I Require Proof of Vaccination to Attend the Party?
While many businesses, who continue to work remotely, have not yet had to consider whether they need to implement a vaccination policy for employees, an in-person event like the office party makes that a live issue.
While in many cases it’s considered reasonable to require proof of vaccination for in-person activities, employers will want to consider how they will accommodate unvaccinated employees or employees who are uncomfortable sharing their vaccination status. As a first consideration, the party should be voluntary. Employees who are unvaccinated or do not wish to disclose their vaccination status can therefore choose not to attend. However, employers may want to offer an alternative to those employees who do not attend in order to not inadvertently discriminate against an employee who may have a legitimate human rights reason for being unvaccinated.
Employers have an obligation to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for worker safety and this includes at work-sponsored social events. Employers will want to think carefully about the risk vs reward of having an in-person holiday gathering and determine what steps they need to take to be safe and also inclusive. If you have questions about having a holiday gathering in your workplace, get in touch for a consultation!