Let’s state the obvious first: We’re in favor of anything that raises awareness to the issue of ALS and #icebucketchallenge has done that and more. And for the record, I did the challenge last weekend, after being suitably doused by my kids. (My friend, Robert Becker, posted a clip from mine here.)
But my colleague Chris Engler is back today with a cautionary tale. Even when this meme ends, there will be something else. Sooner or later, the lawyers get involved…..
No one can argue about the campaign’s success. And you have to think the hype will have to die down soon. The Internet is running out of celebrities, athletes, politicians, and everyday folks to nominate for the experience. I’ve already heard the term “jumped the shark” tossed around.
But that’s not to say that it’s over. Yet. (And regardless, there will be almost certainly be copycat campaigns for other worthy causes.)
With a meme this big, it was only a matter of time before we lawyers had to get involved and pour cold water on everyone’s parade.
You see, the fad has gone beyond individual acts of dousing. Many companies and workplaces have teamed up to soak themselves en masse.
It’s apparently easy enough to goof up when dumping a bucket over your own head. Multiply that by a few dozen employees milling about in festive spirits, and your risk manager is going to start sweating. Indeed, even professionals have injured themselves during mass soakings.
By no means am I advocating against participating in the challenge. (After all, how can you not enjoy these celebrity videos?) I may be an attorney, but I’m not that much of a wet blanket.
But the meme has gotten to the point where our office has started to get questions about it. And employers that are considering hosting or approving a group ice bucket challenge should keep some things in mind.
- Peer Pressure – Will the event be voluntary? We all know that “voluntary” can be a slippery word. While it’s good to encourage employees to participate, some people might be really uncomfortable soaking themselves in front of their coworkers, and some might be unwilling or unable to donate money as an alternative. Respecting individual preferences goes a long way towards building camaraderie. And what happens when an employee says no? Will he/she be shunned?
- Overtime – Suppose the event happens at the end of the day. Can employees demand overtime pay for participating in the event? It may depend on when it happens during the day, and probably whether it was truly voluntary or instead strongly “encouraged.” Employers should consider wage and hour laws when deciding on the timing of the event. Nevertheless, let us also suggest that the employee who demands to be paid for this charitable event may kind of be missing the point.
- Workers’ Compensation – If an employee does get injured, is the injury covered by workers’ comp? Again, it might depend on how voluntary the activity was. If you’re concerned, be sure to check with your workers’ comp carrier, and perhaps your general liability insurer as well. The answer may not be as simple as you think it is. And people have gotten injured.
- Dress Code – What to wear? Perhaps not surprisingly, there aren’t many people in the linked videos above who take the challenge wearing a business suit. But many of the outfits worn in the videos probably wouldn’t pass muster under even a casual dress code, particularly when wet. So a gentle reminder to your employees about what attire is acceptable for the event may unfortunately be necessary.
- Social Media – The ice bucket challenge was born on the Internet and thrives on the Internet. As Dan discussed a few months ago regarding the World Cup, employers might be tempted to discipline workers for excessive Internet use – and to be sure, they are entitled to do so. But it might be worth cutting employees a little slack if the employer is hosting its own challenge, especially if the employees are simply promoting the workplace’s event.
You would hope that no legal issues would arise from a voluntary, charitable activity. But past history has shown that work-related charitable activities inevitably lead to claims — whether we like it or not.
Now, before you leave thinking we’re a wet sponge for the post, here’s one of our favorite #icebucketchallenge videos.