The California Court of Appeal recently made an important ruling on employer liability for excessive employee alcohol consumption. In Purton v. Marriott International, Inc., the family of Dr. Jared Purton sued Marriott after an intoxicated Marriott employee, Michael Landri, struck and killed Dr. Purton in a car accident. Landri was not working that day, but attended Marriott’s employee “thank you” party and became intoxicated. While Marriott had intended to limit employees to two drinks of wine or beer, those limitations were not actually observed. Multiple employees, including Landri and members of management, consumed more than two alcoholic beverages and hard alcohol. A significant amount of the alcohol Landri consumed came from a flask he brought to the party. Landri safely drove home with other co-workers. About twenty minutes after arriving home, however, Landri left to drive another employee home when he struck Purton’s car.
The California Court of Appeal ruled that Marriott could be held liable because Landri’s act of negligence, becoming intoxicated, occurred within the scope of his employment at the employee party. The court held that the event was sufficiently work-related because it was intended to enhance employee relations and morale. While Marriott argued that Landri was not at work during the time of the accident, the court ruled that it was “irrelevant that foreseeable effects of the employee’s negligent conduct (here, the car accident) occurred at a time the employee was no longer acting within the scope of employment.”This ruling highlights the substantial risks of allowing employees to become intoxicated at work, including at company-sponsored social events. We recommend that all employers ensure they have appropriate substance abuse policies, which we believe should generally prohibit consumption of alcohol at work except at company-sponsored events. Among other important policy provisions that should be included, such policies should permit only moderate, responsible consumption of alcohol at company events. Employers should also take reasonable precautions to ensure that employees do not become intoxicated at company events, including limits on alcohol consumption, preventing employees from bringing their own alcohol to events, monitoring for intoxication, and proactively arranging for alternative transportation when necessary to ensure that intoxicated employees do not drive. As the Purton case demonstrates, however, an employer may be held liable for an accident by an employee who became intoxicated at a work-related event even if the employee has the accident after having safely arrived home.
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