Know the Risks and Rewards of Employer-Sponsored Summer Activities

HR & Safety

The following article first appeared in the Hartford Business Journal. It is reposted here with permission.

As we move into the height of summer, employers may be preparing to host activities and events aimed at increasing engagement and morale, fostering camaraderie, and having fun as a team.

While these events may vary widely—from pizza parties to athletic events and tournaments—the goal is the same: to provide a fun, safe, and inclusive experience. In addition, the goal is to limit possible legal risks associated with such activities.

To that end, there are a number of questions that employers should be asking in order to limit these risks. Here are some examples:

Who should attend? Depending on the goal of the summer event, employers should consider whether an event should be employee-only, or whether spouses, partners and/or families should be invited.

Lunchtime or events held during normal business hours may lend themselves to an employee-only experience, while evening or weekend events may be more conducive to an expanded guest list, especially in consideration of employees with family responsibilities.

Ultimately, employers must determine their objectives for the gathering, and how the guests will impact those objectives, as well as the general atmosphere that will result.

What should we do? Employers should use events as opportunities to bring employees together in a manner that is inclusive and accessible. Activities that require teamwork, such as trivia or games, may foster camaraderie, and such activities may relieve the pressure of events that are solely social in nature.

If an employer is planning an activity that is physical in nature (e.g., tennis or pickleball), it’s important to ensure there are no barriers to participation for employees in terms of skill, knowledge, interest or physical capability, and whether alternatives may make sense if employees may feel excluded.

Will alcohol be served? A key consideration for summer social events is whether alcohol should be served.

If it is, employers should implement strategies to limit risks to health/safety related to alcohol, such as offering non-alcoholic beverages as an option, limiting the number of drinks (e.g., drink tickets), providing food, using bartenders, ensuring that alcohol is not central to the event, having managers supervise closely, among other strategies.

Employers should consider consulting with their insurance carriers as to whether they may be subject to liability for issues, alcohol-related or otherwise, stemming from a summer gathering.

What policies apply? It is important to remind employees that employer policies continue to apply at work-sponsored events, even if the events do not take place on the employer’s premises (e.g., harassment, discrimination, professionalism, attire, etc.). Employers should consider sending a reminder of the key policies before the event.

Do I have to attend? In determining whether summer events should be mandatory or voluntary, employers should again consider the goals of the event.

While bringing employees together is important, it is also important to be flexible and recognize that employees may have competing personal obligations, especially if an event is outside of typical working hours.

Additionally, requiring employees to attend an event may increase the potential liability of the employer in the event any workplace injuries occur, triggering a workers’ compensation issue.

How do we set the tone? It is critical that managers and supervisors are present, visible and actively engaged in the activity, serving as role models and setting the tone for a fun, safe and inclusive event.

About the authors: Abby Warren is a partner and Sapna Jain is an alumna of law firm Robinson+Cole’s labor, employment, benefits, and immigration group.


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