Make Sure Your Company Summer Outing Isn’t a Bar-B-Que Recipe for Disaster…

As summer heats up and employees attempt to cool down and blow off steam at company-sponsored summer outings, businesses should be wary that what happens at the summer outing doesn’t necessarily stay at the summer outing. Remember, company summer outings are still fair-game for sexual harassment issues and other employee grievances to develop. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”), employers should ensure that employees are aware that summer outings are not an excuse to drink too much, get too close (think: unwanted touching), and otherwise behave in a way they wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) if they were at work.
The key is setting expectations and being ready to issue discipline or do an investigation should anything go awry at the summer outing. Managers should ensure that no employee feels pressured to – say – wear a swim suit, consume alcohol, or engage in inappropriate games (think: “pin the tail on the intern”). At summer outings, the same workplace rules and expectations should apply. Management should be careful about giving a “free pass” simply because employees are outside of work. Here are some “hot” tips to keep everything “cool,” calm and collected:
(1)   Set expectations before the outing – ensuring that there is no surprise if you need to discipline for any inappropriate behavior.
(2)   Consider avoiding outings that encourage swimwear or other scantily clad attire. One ill-advised company outing encouraged “toga-wear” and skinny dipping. Just steer clear.
(3)   Stick to work place policy. Make sure the same rules apply at the summer outing as they would if you were in the office. Think about it this way: if you can’t imagine “X” happening on the company floor, in the lobby or in your conference room, it shouldn’t happen at the summer outing either.
(4)   Don’t make the outing mandatory. There are many reasons an employee may not feel comfortable attending a summer outing (including, perhaps religious reasons). Making the event mandatory will “dig a deeper legal hole if things go wrong,” according to SHRM.
(5)   Hold the event at locations where employees would not be expected to perform any work. The less it is associated with work, the less the chance for a workers’ comp claim.
(6)   Think about limiting the consumption of alcohol. Have plenty of non-alcoholic options and plenty of food. And be ready to offer rides home to folks who still had too much.
Finally, because the culture is set at the top, set the tone for the event and make sure all managers and supervisors do the same. The event is still a company event so sexual harassment claims can still be made based on what happens.

This article is not legal advice but should be considered as general guidance in the area of employment and corporate law.  Bryan Dench, Amy Dieterich, Jordan Payne Hay, and Rebecca Webber are employment and labor law attorneys; others at the firm handle business and other matters.  You can contact us at 207.784.3200.  SkeltonTaintor & Abbott is a full service law firm providing legal services to individuals , companies, and municipalities throughout Maine.  It has been in operation since its founding in 1853.