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  • Writer's pictureRussell Lookadoo

Summertime and the Living is Easy...?

Updated: May 10, 2018

Summertime and the living is easy, soothing words from the great composer George Gershwin. Summer time is the time for relaxing, enjoying the company of friends and family and for the company picnic! The summer picnic is a great business tradition for many companies large and small, but is it a good idea?

Bottom line, yes, it is a good idea. Successful company picnics are great moral boosters, team builders and opportunities to celebrate. I also believe that inviting the families of the employees is a strong tool in gaining employee loyalty and engagement, leading to retention and better performance. As a child, I have very fond memories of the company picnics for my father’s company held at a park in the foothills of NC with great food, great games, swimming and fellowship.

It looked easy and fun, but since my dad was in charge of the events, I became involuntarily aware of how much work is involved. I was blissfully ignorant of the complexity and risks that were inherent in such an event. Of course, my memories are also of a simpler, less litigious time. Today, employers need to carefully consider managing the liabilities of holding a company picnic. I offer a few suggestions on proceeding with this tradition.

First, never require attendance and refrain from “strongly encouraging” attendance. To do so may cross the lines between a voluntary and thus non-compensable event and work. Additionally, clearly stating that the event is voluntary may be part of any potential defense involving workers compensation, wage and hour, and many other regulatory issues. On the non-legal side, some employees prefer to maintain a firewall of separation between their work and personal life. This preference needs to be respected so any form of pre, or post event coercion could backfire.

Second, consider the issue of alcoholic beverages. Begin with your company culture. If your culture is averse to serving alcoholic beverages this is not a question. However, if it is a tradition or consistent with your company culture be very cautious. The best advice is to have a licensed, third party to cater the event and have them responsible for the serving of adult drinks. Many states, Utah included, have strong dram shop laws that clearly place the liability of a DUI accident on the provider if they serve alcohol to an intoxicated person, or to the point of intoxication or to an underage person. Do not over supervise this independent contractor, but clearly give guidelines that limit consumption to be compliant with this law. Limiting or eliminating alcohol also reduces the chance of embarrassing dangerous or illegal behavior. Please confirm with an attorney for the legal considerations here.

A sub point related to alcohol is managing expectations around general employee behavior. While you cannot treat the event as work, you need to communicate expected standards of behavior and clearly assert that violations of the standards may have appropriate consequences from a disciplinary standpoint. For example, I was involved in the firing of a senior executive who used a company social event to forcefully express his ardor for a female employee. His argument, it was not work, he was wrong. You should have company polices of zero tolerance for this type of behavior and general off duty policies that prohibit behavior that embarrasses or tarnishes the reputation of the employer in the community. Also, prohibit uninvited and unapproved attendees.

Third, hold the event offsite. There is temptation to show off the business when vendors or customers are also invited. It may also be less expensive to hold the event in your parking lot. The rationale for offsite is more compelling. The liability for the event may be lessened in the event of an accident or injury. Again, consult an attorney on this issue. The offsite will be perceived by the employees as a perk. Remember, they show up at your place of business daily and a park, theater or recreation facility is part of the fun. The offsite location may provide more activities, especially if families are invited.

Finally, hire a professional to plan and run the event. You deserve to have fun too. Why burden yourself with all the headaches, logistics and details of food, beverage and entertainment? You should be able to celebrate, refuel your enthusiasm for the company and enhance your relationships with your team. After all, is that why you are having the summer picnic in the first place? Enjoy your summertime.

Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings over three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at

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