Don’t Get Burned by Summertime Events
The summer season is upon us, and many employers look forward to planning events such as barbeques, baseball games, and water park trips. These outings provide excellent opportunities to reward employees, socialize with families, and enjoy time away from the normal pressures of the office…but as a manager or HR professional, this is not the time to let down your guard.
Employees and managers alike tend to think that “what happens away from the office, stays away from the office.” But under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer may be held liable for acts committed by employees within the course and scope of their employment, whether at the workplace or not. Furthermore, the employee does not need to be engaged in his/her actual job responsibilities to be deemed “under the control of the employer.” Liability is increased if the event is mandatory or if the employer may be seen as benefitting from the event through awards presentations or discussion of company programs or goals.
Summer events are perfect environments for employees to relax from the formal dress code of your office, but bathing suits or other revealing clothing can easily open the door to suggestive comments or behavior. A one-time incident at a summer picnic may be severe enough to create liability, or may be cited as part of a pervasive pattern of inappropriate conduct.
Workers’ compensation typically does not cover injuries arising out of voluntary participation in off-duty events, but if a social event is considered to be work-related, workers’ compensation insurance may apply to injured employees.
You may reduce this risk by avoiding high-risk activities such as water skiing, and ensuring that only responsible individuals operate barbeque grills and other cooking equipment. Keep a close eye on bounce houses, obstacle courses and races, and any water activities.
The risks for harassment claims and injuries are heightened when employees consume alcohol at social events. In a 2004 legal claim involving liability for injuries caused by drunk driving after a company party, the court stated, “ It is irrelevant that foreseeable effects of the employer’s negligent conduct occurred at a time the employee was no longer acting within the scope of his or her employment.”
Ever-present “selfies” and social media posts increase the likelihood that images and recordings of less-than-professional behavior will be shared outside of the company, damaging company image and employee credibility.
HR Best Practices
So what’s a good HR Manager to do? You can help to ensure that employees have a great time while protecting the interests of your company with the following steps:
• Clearly inform employees that events are voluntary.
• Remind employees and managers about appropriate conduct, anti-harassment policies, and social media policies.
• Specify that attire should be in good taste and appropriate for a workplace event.
• Shape your social media policy in advance and explain the expectations to all employees. Be prepared to address inappropriate social media posts.
• Consider no alcohol, a cash bar, or drink tickets to limit alcohol consumption.
• Make arrangements for sober transportation (taxi, ride share, designated drivers).
• Follow standard procedures if an employee is injured including providing the DWC-1 Form within one working day and notifying your workers’ compensation carrier of the incident.
• Promptly investigate any complaints of harassment or inappropriate behavior.
• Enlist the help of other managers to watch for inappropriate behavior and excessive drinking, and take necessary steps.
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