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…..

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been ruling the airwaves and headlines for the past few weeks. 

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

Normally, this blog writes itself. This morning, however, the words have not come easy.  Does writing about FMLA leave relating to the Newtown tragedy really matter?

Indeed, I’ve rewritten this post about 5 different times.  What can we say that will comfort those? What can we do to help those? Are we helpless to respond?

Yesterday, I heard from a friend whose kids go to Sandy Hook Elementary that the teachers will need the traditional beginning of the year school supplies as they move to a new location for the remainder of the year.   (Normally, teachers do this on their own.) So, my wife and I began a small personal collection of gift cards that we can hopefully give to teachers on Wednesday to help ease the transition.  (If you’d like to help, feel free to e-mail me at dschwartz@pullcom.com). 

But it still doesn’t seem enough.  

So I open this blog up to you. There are subscribers and readers from around the world and there are many worthy efforts to share.   Please add your suggestions on how to help. You can add a link to a local charity to share with others, or just post words of support for those who might be affected by this.

I was moved by the President’s words last night and, regardless of our politics, I hope we can take them to heart:

And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.

The Connecticut Bar Association continues its resurgence in providing both public service and member service with three terrific upcoming programs.

Improving Employment Through Chocolate

First, the CBA and its Young Lawyers Section have partnered for a charity event where you can have your chocolate and eat it too! In doing so, it will bring employment and community empowerment to the Frog Hollow area of Hartford — one of the poorest in the region.  Ultimately, the project raises funds for Billings Forge Community Works. One of Billing Forge’s key initiatives includes fostering a local economy, including local, sustainable food. To support these efforts, you have a unique opportunity to purchase delicious chocolate just in time for the holiday season.  There are two options:

  • Assorted, fresh, handmade, decadent truffles from Tschudin Chocolates & Confections in Middletown, CT. This chocolatier handcrafts the finest of chocolates, and, for this special fundraiser, will use local herbs and spices grown at the Billings Forge community garden; or,
  • Show your fun side and order milk or dark chocolate gavels for all your favorite legal colleagues or your favorite lawyer-to-be. Made in New Hampshire, these too will include a card designed by Billings Forge’s Artist in Residence.

Order forms can be downloaded here and it makes for a great holiday gift. 

Meet & Greet For New and Experienced Attorneys

The CBA’s Labor & Employment Law section and the Labor & Employment Law Committee of the Young Lawyers section are co-sponsoring its Second Annual Networking Event on Thursday, November 18th from 6-8 p.m. at Bentara Restaurant in New Haven.  There is no cost to register, and you can do so here.  This once-a-year event allows newer and "more seasoned" labor & employment lawyers on all sides of the bar to mix and mingle in an informal setting.  I’d especially recommend this event to in-house counsel or government attorneys who may not see other bar members with regularity.

NLRB Meet and Greet

The CBA’s Labor & Employment Law Section is also sponsoring an informal breakfast meeting with NLRB Regional Director Jonathan Kreisberg and staff regarding substantive and procedural issues as well as recent developments.  Immediately following that breakfast, CBA members are invited to join the NLRB in celebrating a 75th Anniversary Open House, which will include a tour of the Region’s new offices.  The event is scheduled for December 3rd with the meeting scheduled to start at 9 a.m. and the open house at 10 a.m.  In advance of that meeting, the NLRB’s Region 34 office has issued their November newsletter, which can be downloaded here.