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Office party with masked employees

Advice on hosting a holiday party during the pandemic

Monday, December 06, 2021 @ 8:46 AM | By Joshua Goldberg

Joshua Goldberg %>
Joshua Goldberg
The holiday party season is fast approaching, celebrating a year disrupted by COVID-19. And those planning corporate festivities should keep the pandemic in mind, and take the necessary steps to protect employees.

Companies should not be afraid to have a holiday party this year. They just have to be careful. Many firms skipped holiday parties altogether last year due to COVID-19. But with the virus largely under control (with the exception of omicron which is still a big unknown), in Ontario at least, 2021 will be the first year these events can resume in many workplaces.

Party planners are going to have to be extra diligent this year though. Especially because of omicron. Hosts may be liable if someone contracts the virus at their event.

The big question is whether only fully vaccinated people should be invited to attend. If a firm requires all employees to be fully vaccinated, then their inoculation status at the party will not be an issue. However, since many large employers — such as school boards and hospitals and smaller companies — are allowing unvaccinated employees or those who refuse to disclose their status to keep their jobs, there is a good chance that any holiday event will include those without their full vaccines.

Even if a company requires employees to be vaccinated, that policy likely does not apply to spouses who may also be invited to attend a company event.

If you are hosting a party and you are aware that unvaccinated people will be attending, you should let everyone know in advance, so they can make their own decisions.

At the party, COVID-19 safety protocols should be enforced. The City of Toronto has published guidelines in this area, suggesting that hosts should:

  • assess the risks associated with the event and your ability to mitigate these risks;
  • tell employees who are feeling unwell, or those with sick family members, to stay home;
  • post signs at the entrance of the premises describing conditions for entry, such as proof of vaccination;
  • advise anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms at the event to go home immediately and self-isolate;
  • maintain attendance records of all staff and volunteers, including name, contact information, date and time, to support contact tracing should the need arise;
  • comply with current provincial gathering limits;
  • host events or activities virtually and/or outdoors, when possible;
  • keep the volume of amplified and acoustic sound low so that people do not need to speak loudly or lean close to each other in order to be heard;
  • provide regular access to hand sanitizers with 70 to 90 per cent alcohol concentration throughout the venue, and encourage staff, volunteers and guests to use it frequently;
  • avoid shaking hands or other forms of physical contact; and
  • encourage guests to remain seated while eating and drinking.

If people are hosting a party that unvaccinated people are allowed to attend, efforts to protect everyone there have to be much more thorough than in a normal year. If possible, the event should be held outdoors, such as on a patio with heaters.

The danger of guests drinking too much alcohol then driving home has always been a concern with holiday parties, as alcohol may also lead to some people not adhering to COVID safety protocols in terms of distancing or avoiding close contact with others.

Employers might want to think about holding a dry holiday party this year. That would cut the risk of COVID transmission and of guests getting behind the wheel while inebriated.

Joshua Goldberg, of Joshua Goldberg Law, has practised litigation, primarily in the area of personal injury, disability and insurance law. He mostly handles motor vehicle accidents, occupiers’ liability and disability insurance claims but has a small practice of general litigation files. Goldberg had previously spent several years in China, where he learned to speak Mandarin Chinese.

Photo credit / Siberian Photographer ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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