HR Management & Compliance

The Dangerous Intersection of Company Outings and Sexual Harassment

Yesterday, we covered the alcohol-related challenges of company social events. Today, we’ll examine harassment and injury issues. We’ll also tell you about a new webinar on drugs and alcohol in the workplace that you won’t want to miss.

Sexual Harassment at Social Functions

Courts in many states have found that unwanted sexual advances, exhibitionism, improper sexual touching, and sexual innuendo—actions often reported at office parties—can constitute sexual harassment.

For example, in a case where a supervisor followed an employee into the ladies’ room and raped her at a company dinner, a court ruled that:

  • The dinner was business-related.
  • The employee had felt compelled to attend.
  • The employer had allowed the excessive consumption of alcohol.
  • The employer was liable.

The supervisor went to jail for rape—and the employer paid a great deal in damages (including punitive damages) to the injured worker.

Limiting or controlling alcohol consumption may aid in avoiding harassment episodes because overconsumption of alcohol is a factor in many harassment claims arising out of office parties. In addition, employers may want to reiterate to employees that the company’s antiharassment policy applies to company-sponsored social situations.

Drugs and alcohol in the workplace—webinar coming next Wednesday. Learn more.

If you have employees—even a few—you need to be alert for the possibility of drug or alcohol abuse that spills over to the workplace. Don’t miss our informative webinar next week; learn more here.

Liability for Injuries

If an employee is injured during an office social event, the injury may be covered by workers’ compensation. However, many state workers’ compensation laws contain recreational activity exceptions, so injuries incurred while participating in voluntary recreational programs, including athletic events, parties, and picnics, are excluded unless the event is sponsored by the employer and required for employees.

If an incident is not covered by workers’ compensation, the employee may be able to sue the employer for negligence.

For example, a young woman was rendered quadriplegic during an office party when two coworkers attempted to throw her into an indoor swimming pool. The employer initially defended the case on the grounds that the incident was covered by the state’s workers’ compensation statute—but the court said the action was excluded from workers’ compensation by the “horseplay” exception. The woman sued in court, and the employer eventually settled with her for more than $6 million.

Note: Depending on the circumstances, an employer may be better off if an injury is covered by workers’ compensation. If the injured employee can prove that the employer’s negligence was the cause of the injury, the damage award provided by workers’ compensation will be much smaller than what the employee might be awarded in a lawsuit. If the employee, and not the employer, caused the injury, workers’ compensation, if applicable, would cover the employee’s medical costs and lost wages. However, a lawsuit might provide no compensation to the employee for the injury.

Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace: Key Policies and Legal Issues

Live webinar coming next Wednesday, July 9, 2014

10:30 a.m. to Noon Pacific

Every company, large or small, will likely have to face an issue with an employee who has a drug or alcohol problem at some point. And these problems involve all employee levels in the company—from entry-level positions all the way up to the CEO. Unfortunately, many employers wait until the problem arises before considering policies to address what will happen when the situation occurs, when an employee will be considered under the influence, etc.

Even with policies in place, employers have to consider ever-changing laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employers can also usually cut workers’ compensation liability when a workplace accident is attributable to an employee being under the influence. It is critical to consider what policies your company should put in place before the situation occurs and be able to identify an appropriate course of action once a thorny scenario arises.

Developing and managing an effective program requires teamwork among HR, safety, legal, and operations. With a comprehensive, collaborative roadmap in hand, it is possible to establish a program that will have a positive impact on the bottom line.

Join us for an in-depth webinar on July 9. Our presenter—an experienced lawyer and author in the area of labor and employment law who has assisted companies of all sizes in evaluating their policies and practices in dealing with employees with drug or alcohol problems—will provide you with valuable insight on your obligations under FMLA and the ADA, including requirements for providing accommodations to employees requiring treatment and/or assistance.

You and your colleagues will learn:

  • The costs associated with addictions in the workplace
  • Best practices for developing a drug and alcohol policy
  • Pros/cons of a random drug-testing policy
  • Why “zero tolerance” policies aren’t always the best way to go
  • When to offer an employee the opportunity to undergo a rehabilitation program and when you shouldn’t offer this
  • Legal concerns associated with an employee who reports to work “under the influence,” including what it means to be “under the influence”
  • How FMLA protects employees who may need leave for treatment
  • When an employee is “currently under the influence” of illegal drugs and thus not covered by the ADA
  • When the ADA requires reasonable accommodation to one with an alcohol or drug problem
  • What to do when you suspect an on-the-job accident may have been caused by an employee ‘under the influence”
  • What constitutes “reasonable suspicion” that an on-the-job accident might have been caused by being “under the influence” and when you may need “reasonable suspicion”
  • Suggested learning tools to train your management team on how to determine whether someone is “under the influence”
  • And more!

In just 90 minutes, you’ll learn how to protect your employees—and your workplace—from the myriad threats posed by drug and alcohol abuse. Don’t miss it; sign up today.

Download your copy of How To Survive an Employee Lawsuit: 10 Tips for Success today!