Reader: My company is implementing an appraisal system that will include ratings on whether we attend owner-sponsored social gatherings, such as picnics and athletic events, and make the rounds with the managers.
I think this is phony and distasteful. Though I am very much a team player, I don’t like company events, and I will find it even more repugnant if I am forced to go as part of my evaluation requirements. Several colleagues feel the same way.
Is it legal to force people to attend these events as part of the performance appraisal process? If so, should I just suck it up and go? Try to explain my discomfort to managers?
Karla: So you’re talking about “fun” events where your absence will be noted and your socializing will be judged? I bet you thought seventh grade was behind you.
By trying to blur the lines between leisure and labor, your employer has created a perfect recipe for resistance and resentment — and may just be edging up on some legal issues. “While this policy might seem harmless and focused on team-building, it could subject the company to potential risk for charges of discrimination” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, says employment lawyer Amy Epstein Gluck of FisherBroyles.
If attending these events is essential to being considered for promotions or other positive rewards, Epstein Gluck explains, this policy could have what employment discrimination law calls a “disparate impact” on those who are unable to attend for reasons based on their inclusion in a Title VII-protected class. Examples could include workers with family care duties that prevent them from attending non-workday events, workers with disabilities or medical treatments that preclude participation, or workers of faith whose sabbath periods fall during the scheduled events.
Another issue that might make management rethink its mandatory-fun initiative: Any nonexempt workers (generally, those paid hourly and eligible for overtime) who are required to attend should be paid for their time, plus overtime for any hours above 40 in a workweek.
These events may be a well-intended way to offer everyone equal access to managers in a casual setting outside the daily grind. In that case, your employer could avoid potential discrimination and wage concerns by scheduling events during regular business hours, or keeping attendance voluntary. A treat, not a trial.
Before bringing out the legal big guns, though, you and like-minded co-workers could try asking HR how exactly attendees will be evaluated on their networking, and whether those who truly can’t attend will be penalized. The more questions management has to answer, the greater the likelihood it will decide that this policy is more trouble than it’s worth.
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PRO TIP: Employment lawyer Amy Epstein Gluck notes that even if a policy is not intended to have a disparate impact on workers of a particular race, color, religion, sex or national origin, the effect — not the intent — of the policy is what matters under Title VII.