Employment Update: Summer Fun or Summer Liability?
By Anne-Marie Storey
I hate to bring up the possibility of bad news just as the warm weather has finally arrived, but I am compelled to offer a reminder that warm-weather activities can also bring possibilities for workplace issues/liabilities.
Here are just a few issues to watch out for:
An injury may be compensable if it arises out of and in the course of employment. What does this mean for summer events, such as cook-outs or team participation? An injury that occurs while an employee is voluntarily participating in an employer-sponsored athletic event or team is not compensable but there is no similar exclusion for a social event. The outcome will likely depend on the extent to which the employer sponsors, controls, or participates in the activity; whether the employer, by expressly or impliedly requiring participation, or by making the activity part of the services of an employee, brings the activity within the orbit of the employment; or whether the employer derives substantial direct benefit from the activity. There may be defenses to such claims based on horseplay or intoxication exclusions. As usual, the outcome is very fact-specific.
Another issue that can result from summer events is sexual and other harassment claims. This seems to be particularly true when alcohol is served. You should think through how summer parties will be conducted and might consider a harassment refresher before the event.
Dress Codes. These sometimes become challenging to enforce during the summer. If you have a dress code, be sure to apply it consistently. Also, remember that certain forms of accommodation, such as for religious beliefs, can trump a dress code.
Requests for Time Off.
You are likely to receive more requests for time off during the summer months. Keep an eye on potentially questionable requests, such as someone who suddenly requests FMLA time on Fridays and Mondays of each week.
Wage and Hour.
If you employ minors, be sure you are in compliance with Maine and federal law regarding restrictions on the number of hours they can work as well as the type of work they can perform.
These are just a few of the issues to be particularly aware of now that summer is upon us. Try to enjoy it anyway!