Question: I like to provide my office staff with outside activities. I believe it creates a stronger bond. We occasionally go out for dinner and to a movie, we have an annual holiday office party, and last summer we traveled to a nearby city to attend a professional baseball game. I am committed to strengthening my team in this way. Are there any issues with office-sponsored events about which I should be concerned?
ANSWER: Kudos to you! Your intentions are excellent, and your concerns are equally well founded. As the employer and business owner, you must consider issues of safety, harassment/discrimination, and wage/hour regulations with regard to office-sponsored events.
Over the years, we have found that, many times, alcohol is the culprit that leads to problems during sponsored events. Alcohol in moderation is seldom a problem. Not allowing the consumption of alcohol is the safest course of action, but if this is not feasible, it is essential to impose some controls (drink tickets, designated drivers). This helps avoid harassment complaints that may occur due to impaired inhibitions or potential liability claims if an employee driving home has an accident.
Workers' compensation or liability claims/lawsuits obviously aren’t fun. Here are some tips to minimize potential employer liability:
- Outside activities should take place off premises.
- Participation must clearly be established as voluntary.
- Employees should be notified that the activity is not work time.
- Closely monitor the event to ensure proper decorum.
- Make sure your insurance coverage would address a "worst case scenario."
Even with these safeguards in place, fun and team-building can still be achieved.
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The opinions expressed above are based on the writer’s comprehensive background as a human resources professional and the policies in our Bent Ericksen & Associates products having been reviewed by legal counsel. The writer is not an attorney, and the advice provided in this message should not be construed as a legal opinion. If you have legal questions after considering the advice and reading any materials referenced, it is recommended that you consult with your attorney.
Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates, and Rebecca Crane is a human resource compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists deal successfully with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more about its services, call (800) 679-2760 or visit www.bentericksen.com.