Business summer events and minimizing legal risk
With the arrival of summer, employers can plan summer activities and offer other benefits or incentives to their employees. Manufacturers, whose employees have been frontline workers for more than two years, might be particularly interested in offering such benefits to thank employees for their service. As part of the process of planning and implementing these benefits, employers should understand the relevant legal risks of these actions and the measures available to minimize these risks.
Summer events, outings, and similar activities can create risks in situations where employees and managers are more relaxed and engaged outside of the typical work environment. Before such events occur, employers should clearly communicate relevant behavioral expectations, which may include reminders that all workplace rules and policies remain in full force and effect, regardless of the circumstances. place where the activity occurs. Likewise, employers should ensure that supervisors and managers behave appropriately and are properly trained on how to handle any concerns or complaints that may arise during such events. Employers considering serving alcohol at such events and activities should consider whether there are means to limit consumption (e.g. drink tickets), best practices for controlling this service, whether insurance or relevant license is required and whether travel arrangements may be required. to ensure the safety of employees, among other things. Finally, employers should be aware of applicable COVID-19 laws and guidelines that may apply to the safe organization of such events.
With respect to events that include physical activity – and events in general – employers should assess whether they may be subject to workers’ compensation obligations, particularly where the activity may be considered to occur in the “course or scope” of employment. To minimize potential liability, employers may consider requiring employees to sign a document acknowledging that the activity is entirely voluntary and confirming that the employee assumes certain risks by choosing to participate. Additionally, employers should consider activities and events that are inclusive of all employees and can appeal to employees broadly and do not require knowledge of a sport or activity or a specific physical ability or skill.
Finally, manufacturers may choose to offer incentives or benefits to employees, especially this year when these employers may wish to pass on their appreciation to their frontline workers. For example, manufacturers might choose to implement shortened work weeks or days during the summer months by implementing programs allowing employees to leave early on Fridays or take off that day in the summer. Similarly, employers may consider offering free tickets to sporting events or concerts, meal vouchers or other free items. Other employers could review their paid time off/vacation policies to increase flexibility. For all of these policies, it is important to ensure that changes to leave and benefits comply with applicable law, including with respect to employment, benefits, and tax laws, and that the policies and benefits are applied or provided fairly and consistently.