From the school of "no good deed goes unpunished"
To a carpenter, every problem calls out for a hammer and a nail. To a lawyer, every situation presents a potential legal issue. When a company sponsors an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, are there potential HR/legal/liability concerns to be wary of?
In this case, the concerns may be real and should not be ignored, but they also should not be deemed so grave as to deter participants from pursuing the philanthropic benefits.
When hosted in a work setting, such events do raise issues in the following areas:
- Wage and hour law. Is the time spent prepping and participating paid or unpaid time?
- Workers' compensation. The potential for workers' comp claims stems from the possibility of unintended health consequences, including heart attack, muscle strain from lifting heavy containers of ice water, falls from a step ladder, slipping on spilled ice, or head injuries from an impact with the bucket.
- Harassment. Claims of harassment could stem from wet T-shirts, reputational harm resulting from taunting, etc.
- Personal property damage. The water could damage or destroy clothing, jewelry, watches, cell phones, or other items.
- Privacy. Participants may claim invasion of privacy if a video clip of the activity is posted online and goes viral.
- Discrimination. Employees who decline to participate due to religious or other personal beliefs may feel ostracized, or be openly criticized by others based on such beliefs.
Under most applicable employment laws, activities that are truly social or recreational, i.e., not related to the company's business purposes, and where employee participation is truly voluntary, may be deemed nonworking time, thereby insulating management from the obligation to pay wages and from the risk of work-related injury liability.
Much of the concerns about ice bucket drenchings may be overreactive, but more often the "after-the-fact" criticism comes from being unprepared rather than overprepared. So, to hope for the best but prepare for the worst, here is a possible release form that participants may be asked to sign. As with all such matters, you are also urged to review this situation with your own legal counsel.
Participant Waiver - Voluntary Charitable Event - ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
I hereby recognize and acknowledge that:
1) My participating in XYZ Co.'s ALS "Ice Bucket" Challenge is solely voluntary, for my personal benefit as a nonwork-related charitable event/contribution, is recreational and social in nature, and is not in any manner or respect part of my work responsibilities or my duties.
2) XYZ Co. does not expect or require me to join or participate.
3) There will be no employment repercussions or consequences for not participating.
4) I acknowledge (a) that although unlikely, there may be some hazards associated with the ice bucket activity resulting from lifting a large container of liquid, a sudden dousing with ice water; and (b) that I should not participate if I feel the activity poses any risk to my health, well-being, or personal property, etc. I hereby certify that I am in good health and voluntarily assume all risks to person and property associated with this event.
5) Having read this waiver and knowing these facts and in consideration of your accepting my participation, I, for myself and anyone entitled to act on my behalf, waive and release XYZ Co., its officers, directors, agents, volunteers, and employees, the ALS Foundation, Inc., all sponsors, their representatives and successors, from all claims or liabilities of any kind arising out of my participation in this event even though that liability may arise out of negligence or carelessness on the part of the persons named in this waiver.
6) I grant permission to all of the foregoing to use any photographs, motion pictures, recordings, or any other record of this event for any legitimate purpose.
Participant printed name and signature date