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Expert provides tips for avoiding company picnic legal pitfalls

With summer comes the official start of company picnic season. Many businesses are looking for ways to boost morale in the tough economy and recognize employees. Although these celebrations often involve food, games and fun for all, they can end up being an employer’s worst nightmare. With tips from “The Manager’s Mentor,” Shanti Atkins, Esq., throwing a stress free and festive company picnic or party can be easy.

Atkins suggests avoiding the following when you plan this year’s festivities:

  • On the party invitation, ask “husbands and wives” to join you for summer fun. This is a quick way to alienate single employees as well as gay, bisexual and transgender employees.
  • Ask staff to work evenings or weekends arranging the party without paying for their extra time. Wage and hour violations are the biggest new area of employment law risk, and having employees work “off the clock” is one the easiest ways to get in hot water.
  • Make attendance mandatory. Unless you plan to host the party during work time or pay people for attending, mandatory attendance can cause wage and hour concerns as well.
  • Allow employees to post pictures and comments about your event on social media outlets without having a policy in place. Posting pictures on Facebook, etc. can cause employer embarrassment (i.e., a picture of a clearly inebriated employee holding up a glass with the company logo), and can also cause tension among co-workers (i.e., one coworker posting an embarrassing photo of another). And employees may be viewing these pictures on Company time.
  • Invite important clients, and lavish them with really expensive food, wine and gifts. Inappropriate gift giving is one of the most common workplace ethical missteps, and can result in very damaging conflicts of interest.
  • Only serve up big slabs of grilled meat. Cultural sensitivities should be thought of as well, i.e. religion, national origin, eating preferences.
  • Open bar all night with hard alcohol. There’s nothing like uncontrolled alcohol consumption to guarantee some messy problems to tackle the morning after. Not only will you see escalated risks around harassment, but more importantly, there are serious safety issues to manage.
  • Announce to everyone that “what happens at the summer party stays at the summer party.” Even though the event is likely to be offsite and after hours, it’s still a work event and all the same HR rules and policies apply. Employers need to remember that—and it needs to be clear to employees as well.
  • Invite summer interns without providing appropriate supervision. Some of these seasonal workers are very young, and don’t know or understand some of the basic rules of the road when it comes to a company event. Employers also need to remember their interns may be under 21, and should not be served alcohol.