Editor’s note: Mason Alexander is Managing Partner of the Charlotte office of employment law firm Fisher & Phillips LLPSummer is the time when many of you may be planning company events at lakes, softball fields or amusement parks for your employees and their families. It is also time to take action to protect your company from being sued for negligence, harassment, workers compensation and/or discrimination as a result of your company event.
Generally, the law will not hold an employer responsible for the acts of its employees outside of working hours or off the employer’s premises when the employer does not have the means or ability to control its employees. However, if the employer’s social function serves a clear business purpose, then some courts are more likely to find an employer liable for the misbehavior of its employees.
Regardless of whether it is the company picnic, the office holiday party, or the annual retreat, certain steps should be taken with an eye towards the particular kinds of problems that may arise at the event.
Management Training – Communicate to your management team that while they are at the party, they are “on duty” as a member of management, and that you expect them to conduct themselves in a professional manner. Remind them that all Company policies remain in force at the function, including policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination. Instruct them that if they feel an employee has had enough to drink, let him or her know and either call a cab or make sure someone who has not been drinking alcohol drives that employee home.
Employee Communication – Notify your employees that attendance at this event is voluntary and that alcohol will be served only to employees who are 21years or older. Encourage employees that drink alcohol to have a “designated driver” who will not be drinking and who can drive them home. Clearly state that employees who become intoxicated or disruptive are in violation of company policy and that any individual who is impaired and who decides to operate a motor vehicle anyway does so in violation of company policy and at his or her own risk.
Employee Releases – If you are planning a company event that involves the opportunity for any kind of physical activity, have your employees read and sign an acknowledgment and release form. By signing the form, the employee should acknowledge the risks associated with the activity and assume those risks. The employee should also waive any claims against the employer in exchange for being allowed to participate in the activity. Naturally, the release should clearly state that the activity is purely voluntary.
Take the time to properly prepare and communicate your expectations to all employees, and then have some fun.
Mason Alexander is Managing Partner of the Charlotte office of employment law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP. He can be reached at email@example.com or 704-334-4565.