Holiday parties at work: Back or too risky?

TORONTO – It’s 2021, the majority of Canadians are vaccinated and winter break is approaching – leading to a question many employees and employers are currently wondering: Will the holiday party at work work will return, and is that a good idea?

Last year’s holiday partying was hardly unexpected, with restaurants, bars and venues closed to guests and large groups. Now, with the proliferation of vaccines supporting the reopening of some aspects of society, including indoor dining and large indoor events, some companies and users alike Labor is considering bringing back the traditional holiday party to allow colleagues to celebrate together.

But is it a good idea when COVID-19 is still circulating?

For a health professional, the answer is clear: in-person holiday parties are a bad idea.

Colin Furness, a Toronto-based infection control epidemiologist, told in a phone interview that he believes in-person work parties remain a risk as cases diseases circulating in the community.

“You can have an office party and be able to deal with it, but you really need to think about the bigger systemic things,” he said.

“The problem with office parties is, especially with the level of isolation we’ve had for 20 months, whether people really, really crave social interaction, that is, not wearing The mask, which means the wine flows out, means that people get a little bit of noise, a little bit of mess, a little bit of closeness. And so, even the best of intentions can fall by the wayside. “

Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 are possible, although relatively rare, and Furness points out that we’ve only just begun immunizing children aged 5-11, meaning this group remains at risk. chance of contracting COVID-19 if parents pass it on to them. .

“The timing of the holiday season, for our ability to vaccinate children, is really exciting,” he said.

While children are less at risk of serious consequences if they become infected with the virus, persistent COVID symptoms such as brain fog are a sign of brain damage, he said, and the Research has shown that between one in seven and half of children with a viral illness experience symptoms a few weeks later.

“Primary schools are canaries in a coal mine,” he said. “It’s the only biome that COVID has left. And so if you want to know the impact of your activities, that’s where you need to look. ”

He added that he understands how much people miss that social interaction, but said that in terms of priorities, a holiday party isn’t high because it doesn’t boost the economy or help benefit the public. vulnerable people.

“I feel horrible having to say, ‘We need to stop,’ but I really feel we need to stop.”

As for whether hosting a holiday party is a legally bad idea, employment attorney Andrew Monkhouse told it’s unlikely an employer would be sued if an employee member encountered COVID-19 at one such gathering.

“In Canada, there really aren’t many COVID liability cases,” he said. “Even if there would be a lawsuit regarding COVID liability, someone gets COVID and they can specifically identify it back to a restaurant. [where a work party was held], I suppose they can make claims both against the restaurant and against their employer.

“That being said, an employer would have very limited liability under Canadian law for an employee receiving COVID. They would have to be sloppy. “

He points out that a holiday party at work should always be framed as an event where attendance is voluntary.

“That would likely greatly reduce any potential liability for the company or the employer, because that way, it’s the employee’s choice, they don’t have to go to work. ,” Monkhouse said.

An employee will only really have a lawsuit if they can prove their employer went above and beyond to harm them at the party and expose them to the virus, such as “force employees to stay closer, or they” are playing some pre-COVID game that obviously wouldn’t be considered OK under the current circumstances. “

If a manager is pressuring employees to attend an in-person holiday party they don’t feel comfortable with because of COVID-19 concerns, Monkhouse says employees should know they can always refuse these types of events.

“Generally speaking, if an employee feels like they’re being pushed around, I think it’s best to just say they can’t do it, sorry and they’re happy to work together,” he says. “At the end of the day, you know, no employee is required to go to a holiday party even in pre-COVID.”

Some employees may be worried about attending a work event if they are working remotely at a workplace that does not have a vaccination assignment and they are uncertain about their co-worker’s vaccinations. Karma. Monkhouse says this particular concern won’t be an issue if owners host parties at restaurants because many provinces have regulations requiring the use of vaccines in restaurant dining.

Zoom parties could be another option, but after another year of this pandemic, Furness doesn’t think they’ll appeal.

“It will depend on the personal culture at a particular organization,” he said, adding that many have had “zoom-out burnout” that has now become a pandemic.

Despite COVID-19 concerns, it’s likely that some companies will host holiday parties indoors, and Furness says that if employers go that route, they should try to make them happen. as safe as possible.

“If I were given the task of “You have to throw a holiday party, make this as safe as possible,” yes, the vaccination mission, but also rapid tests at the door, ‘ he suggested. “No one enters without [a rapid test]. That would really go a long way towards keeping the room safe. And how many HEPA filters will we have? I mean, who is calculating how big the sky is, how many people will be there? How many portable HEPA filters do we need? So if we have a vaccine and rapid testing mission and you’re cleaning the air – that’s a party I might even be in. “

He added that air filtration is an important part of making spaces safe during COVID-19 that many people don’t think about.

If you do end up attending an indoor, in-person party at the office, Monkhouse points out that being inside all the time can make our networking skills callous, and watching the Your vi is very important.

“It’s something that employees in particular have to be careful of,” he said. “For employers, it is crucial to make sure that you are providing a safe environment, […] just really make sure everyone feels safe and you won’t have any other problems. ”


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