The holiday season is coming, and many employers will be
hosting social events at the workplace and offsite. Workers may look forward to
participating in the annual festivities, but can you require that they attend?
“Under most circumstances, an employer can require an employee to attend a
social function during or even outside of normal work hours,” said
Christopher Anderson, an attorney with Littler in Nashville. But there are a host
of legal issues that employers should consider before requiring attendance at a
social or team-building event. Employees may be excused if their religious
beliefs prohibit them.
If employees resist attending, evaluate their reasons on a
case-by-case basis. Some workers may prefer to avoid social functions due to
mental or physical impairments or other legally protected reasons.
Event sites should be accessible to workers with
disabilities, and employees should be excused if they can’t participate in a
meaningful way because of a disability.
Employees also shouldn’t be required to attend if they are on a job-protected
leave of absence. Employment discrimination issues can arise if employers
discipline workers for not attending social functions.
Nonexempt employees must be paid for all hours worked in
accordance with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage and hour
laws. So when attendance is mandatory, employees need to be paid for that time
at their regular rate of pay and must receive overtime pay. If employees refuse
to attend an event during work hours, it’s not wise to make them use their
vacation time to bow out.
Employers should weigh the pros and cons of hosting a
mandatory social event from an employee-relations perspective, not just a legal
one. Legally, an employer can tell workers that attendance is required and that
they will be compensated for their time, however this approach will almost
certainly not be well-received. HR should view employees’ reluctance to attend
a social function as a window into a potential human-relations or culture issue
at the company.
“Employers who punish employees for failing to attend a
social event are damaging employee morale by undermining the very objective the
event is designed to accomplish, which is to create community and encourage
collegiality,” noted Anderson. Employers should reach out to workers for ideas
to help plan the event. When employees are involved, they are more likely to
attend. Employers should create a culture that motivates employees to
Companies that require employees to attend social functions
should have a related policy in their handbook. It should state:
The purpose of the policy.
The type of social events it covers (e.g., the
holiday party, summer picnic or annual barbecue).
That all employees are required to attend these
social events absent extenuating circumstances.
Employers shouldn’t discipline workers for
violating the policy.
Employers are responsible for maintaining a safe and
respectful environment during sponsored social events. Workplace policies also
apply at such events, so employees must display the same level of respect and
professionalism as they would in the workplace. As a result, employers have an
obligation to enforce their anti-harassment policies by investigating
complaints and taking appropriate corrective action.
At Converge HR Solutions, we can help you craft the perfect
policies for workplace social events. We can help you evaluate and implement these programs. To
learn more about Converge please visit our website at www.convergehrsolutions.com or contact us by
phone at 610-296-8550 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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