The idea of a company picnic, party, or “morale event” comes from a good place. The organization’s leaders want to give employees an opportunity to relax and enjoy a little downtime, while also hopefully fostering a cohesive and collaborative work environment.
But as companies large and small have learned, without careful planning—and, yes, a meeting with human resources—these get-togethers can go wrong in a hurry, and expose the business to some legal liability.
Alcohol may be a great social lubricant, but it’s not always the best mix at a company mixer. Before deciding whether to serve alcohol at the company party, the organizers should verify that plans are in place to ensure compliance with local and state laws, under which a host can be held liable for damages caused by intoxicated guests.
Ask the hard questions: Is there a mechanism in place to verify that anyone being served is of legal drinking age? What arrangements can and will be made for employees who overindulge? Will transportation be provided for those too impaired to drive, and are you liable in any way if they end up with a DUI?
Diversity and inclusion
To avoid complaints about workplace discrimination, company events should be as inclusive as possible. Take a look at any planned activities and their potential to be construed as discriminating based on gender. For example, female employees could feel uncomfortable engaging in a typically male-dominated event like a paintball competition, so be certain to include activities that appeal broadly.
Also, take care to ensure that your outing complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A picnic at a location that does not accommodate wheelchairs, for example, might illegally exclude employees with mobility issues. Know your employees and do your best to include everyone and make them all feel comfortable.
Wage and hour and labor laws
Parties and events can get complicated when an employer mandates attendance. Requiring an employee to attend means that the employee should get paid for their time.
Moreover, that time could also count towards hours worked for overtime calculations. Are your employees unionized? Does the collective bargaining agreement speak to (or in some cases require or prohibit) events outside of normal working hours? When planning the cost of the event, understand what, if any, additional labor cost will be incurred along with the mandatory fun.