employers liability, employment law, office party

Employers’ Liability at Office Parties

With the rise of mental health awareness and working from home, employers are trying to ensure their employees can be productive long-term and avoid burnout. One way to promote comradery within the workplace is to arrange work parties or events.

Office parties allow colleagues to develop a stronger bond and relieve some work stress. The development of these bonds can allow employees to feel more comfortable at work and promote a positive office environment. However, work parties can also expose employers to liability.

When could an employer be liable when arranging an office party? What options do employees have? What can employers do to proactively reduce their risks? This article answers these questions and explains how an employment and Human Rights lawyer can help you.


Where is an Employer Liable for its Employees?

It is not always clear how far employer liability extends to.

This doctrine of vicarious liability is important in the employment context, as employers can be found to be vicariously liable for their employees. The focus is not on the fault of the employee carrying out the act, but rather on the relationship between the employee and the employer. One example is the case of Bazley v Curry in 1999.

The defendant, in this case, was a non-profit organization operating two residential care facilities to treat emotionally troubled children. The organization’s employees would act as substitute parents. One of the employees was a pedophile, which was unknown to the employer. The organization was found liable for abuse conducted by the employee. This case demonstrates that employers can suffer consequences for misconduct by an employee through the doctrine of vicarious liability.

As such, an employer even at a work party outside of the office is also liable for the conduct done by its employees. An employer should provide training to their employees and keep updated policies in place to prevent misconduct from occurring at office events. Even an accidental incident can make an employer liable under this doctrine.


What is Vicarious Liability

To establish vicarious liability in the employment context in Ontario, three elements must be met:

  1. An employment relationship, or a relationship where an individual or entity is responsible for its subordinates, exists;
  2. The employee commits a tort; and
  3. The tort was committed within the scope of employment.

A tort is an act or omission that causes a party to suffer a loss or harm that results in legal responsibility for the person who commits the act or omission. Examples of torts include assault battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

If you have suffered a tort by a colleague, reach out to an employment and litigation lawyer to know your options.


What to do if you Have Suffered a Tort as an Employee

Depending on the circumstances, there may be civil remedies available to you if you have suffered a tort by a colleague in the workplace, or within the scope of their employment.

With vicarious liability, you may have the opportunity to bring your claim against the employer rather than the individual wrongdoer.

What legal process you should proceed with and the remedies available for you to pursue will depend on the facts of your case. It is recommended to consult with an employment lawyer to advise you of your available options.


What Can Employers Do?

Employers can avoid work party liability by taking steps to minimize their risk of misconduct occurring in an employment context.

The employer should regularly update their harassment policy and place it in a visible area for all employees. An employer can implement company-wide training prior to any office events taking place. For example, employers can provide sensitivity training to their employees.

At a work party, employers should monitor the conduct that takes place and ensure the environment is safe.

If you are an employer facing a claim including vicarious liability, a lawyer can help you determine whether the elements for establishing vicarious liability have been met. An experienced employment and litigation lawyer can put forward a strong defense in your favour.



In the era of working from home, workplace parties are an even more significant way to improve team morale and develop bonds between colleagues. However, with office parties comes potential liability for employers for the actions of their employees. This liability is known as vicarious liability. To avoid this, employers should take preventative measures such as ensuring that each employee is properly trained and updating employer policies. Additionally, ensuring these parties are conducted in a safe environment will help prevent misconduct. A lawyer can help to not only develop these policies, but also advocate for employers facing vicarious liability claims.


Contact Us 

If you are an employer or an employee needing assistance with liabilities resulting from work parties, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support, check out our Chief Legal Officer (CLO) program page for our strategic solutions


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