Avoiding the BBQ Pit(falls) of the Company Summer Picnic

By: Erica Rocush

After two (or more) years of companies having to cancel the time-honored tradition of the company summer picnic and BBQ due to COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions, both companies and their employees are eager to get back out in the summer weather and get together for water balloon fights and three-legged races. And while such celebrations are a welcome addition to the summer schedule, employers would be wise to keep in mind the following tips to ensure a safe, fun, and low-risk (legally speaking) event.

  1. Encourage, but do not require, attendance. This is a very important tip for three reasons. If attendance is required: (1) non-exempt employees will have to be compensated for the time spent in attendance at the event; (2) any injuries will be treated as a work injury and covered as workers’ compensation injuries; and (3) the celebration may run afoul of anti-discrimination and reasonable accommodation laws.
     
  2. Limit (or even prohibit) alcohol consumption. This is a well-established tip, but worth repeating, for the obvious reason that overconsumption of alcohol, particularly when people are outdoors in the hot sun and may not have had a full meal, leads to unprofessional and potentially problematic behavior. Limiting the amount of alcohol consumed can avoid unnecessary behavior problems. Offering drink tickets and a variety of non-alcoholic drinks can help limit alcohol consumption, as can planning a party during the day and inviting family.
     
  3. Remind employees that fun is great, to a reasonable extent. It is important to remind employees that all workplace rules relating to conduct apply in full force at any company gathering, especially rules relating to harassment, discrimination, and professional interactions, and that employees will be disciplined for violating any workplace rules at the company event. The tone of such a communication can be light and fun, but sending a reminder with the invitations and right before the event is very important.
     
  4. Identify a dress code. Although important for all company gatherings, identifying a dress code for summer events, particularly when there might be a pool present, is especially crucial. Sending out a specific set of expected attire guidelines can serve not only to avoid wardrobe missteps and inappropriate outfits, but can also to help employees feel comfortable with what they are wearing.
     
  5. Remind managers to lead by example. Sending out reminder memos regarding the consumption of alcohol and acting professionally only goes so far. The best way to ensure employees have fun in a responsible manner is for the leaders of the company to set the right tone – have fun, but keep in mind it is still a professional event.
     
  6. Consider inviting the family. Similar to ensuring that the company leaders lead by example, one of the best ways to ensure employees maintain a proper level of decorum is to invite along spouses, significant others, and even kids, who can help keep an eye on the employees. Inviting families also encourages more employees to attend because they do not have to take time away from their families during their free time, and it gives employees something other than work to talk about.
     
  7. Promptly respond to any issues that do arise. If the above reminders and guidelines go unheeded, be sure to encourage employees to raise any concerns that do arise with the proper personnel, and then promptly follow up on and address any concerns that are raised.
     
  8. Keep in mind any COVID-19 restrictions. Although things are getting back to a new normal in regard to COVID-19, the last thing employers want is for their fun event to become a super-spreader. So, make sure that all proper (and legally required) COVID-19-related restrictions are in place.
     
  9. And, last but not least, HAVE FUN!

For more information on this topic, contact the author of this post or visit our Labor & Employment Practice page to find an attorney in your area. You can also subscribe to this blog to receive email alerts when new posts go up.

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