Bush parties could lead to legal liabilities for contractors

I always figured the average silvicultural camp bush party and the nuclear tests in the Nevada desert had something in common. Both could take place, but being so far from anywhere, nobody would notice.

That may have changed for silviculture employers following a February Supreme Court of Canada ruling awarding $300,000 to an Ontario real estate employee who got drunk at her company’s office Christmas party. Later, driving her car home impaired, Linda Hunt crashed. The Court ruled her employer was partly responsible for the injuries she received.

Silvicultural camp bush parties are probably a little more animated than anything the realty business has to offer. In fact the isolation and the pent up need for some rambunctious rest and recreation may be factors that push these events into a category of their own. In some cases the bush party is part of the corporate culture of some firms with the employer either aiding and abetting or at least openly tolerating the proceedings. It is, after all, just innocent fun to offset the hard work.

But now, whether you just buy some beer to go with the pizza at the end of the shift, or allow employees to bring in their own the Court says you may be liable if someone hurts themselves or someone else. You may have even more sweepings liabilities than you realize because isolated silvicultural camps comprise a “captive workforce.” Under these circumstances your obligation to look out for the welfare of your employees increase. Just doing nothing about alcohol in camp may get you in court explaining why you let those joyriders steal your quad at three in the morning.

Hunt’s employers made repeated attempts to keep her from driving home. At the moment they are appealing the case. In the meantime insurance companies are calculating how much their liability insurance rates are going to increase if the appeal fails. Prudent silvicultural contractors should get some legal advice on the topic.

Here’s a sampling of the recommendations heard around the industry so far.

Just say no. No booze. No parties with alcohol. None in camp. Period. This would work if it was practical. Put it in writing.

Failing the latter extreme at least have a clear policy regarding alcohol. Write it out. State how your company does not supply, shop or transport alcohol for individuals in camp. Put in writing what is acceptable behavior in the camp setting. Outline the penalties for non compliance.

Consider designating people to chaperone parties and keep people from causing trouble under the influence.

You might want to investigate special party insurance policies similarly available to bars.

All this may seem like one unnecessary wet blanket. But weigh this against being sued for somebody’s drinking antics that may have led to injuring themselves or some innocent bystanders. The Court has ruled that you may be responsible for the actions of your employees in these circumstances. The course now is to act accordingly and protect yourself and your employees.