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3 Problematic Office Perks: Preventing Liability

12th Mar 2018
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In an effort to keep employees engaged and attract new talent, business owners often look for trendy and exciting office perks. Being able to bring your pet to work — or, better yet, work from home — can be huge draws to both current and potential employees. However, in their ongoing efforts to generate enthusiasm in the workplace, entrepreneurs often create major liability issues.

What are the problems with implementing such office perks, and what can managers do to mitigate risk? Let’s look into three of the most problematic office perks:

Bringing Your Pet to Work

It’s a common request from pet lovers in the workplace: let employees bring their pets to work! While it might seem like a distraction, it’s undoubtedly a great way to keep employees happy and relaxed while working. Many trendy startups are adopting pet-friendly work policies, but is that wise? Some liability issues should make entrepreneurs reconsider letting Fido roam from cubicle to cubicle.

Liability Concerns:

As noted by Inc., there are several ways that your organization could be held responsible for damages by allowing pets into the workplace. If an employee’s dog knocks over or bites an employee or customer, the company could be held responsible. If a cat is allowed in the office and damages another employee’s property — again, the company could be liable.

To top it off, many employees can’t be around pets at all; Medical News Today states that around 12 percent of the American population is allergic to cats, and 5 percent is allergic to dogs. Failing to protect employees from such allergies could be considered a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so tread carefully.

The Solution:

Require that employees who wish to bring pets get insurance that will cover any damages caused by the pet. In the Inc. article referenced above, author Chas Rampenthal argues that “it is not too much to require the employee to sign an indemnification agreement that will require the employee to pay the cost of defending any dog-bite case that comes your company’s way.”

Finally, if you do choose to allow pets in the office, require that pets are kept in areas where they will not affect employees with allergies.

Company Outings

As a business, sponsoring team-building social events is a smart way to build camaraderie between employees. It can make employees feel valued, which is essential to a happy and healthy work environment. The exact nature of your event will be dependent on the overall character of your workforce. However, one thing is consistent across all company outings: the need to minimize potential liability.

Liability Concerns:

Injuries at recreational events can be a thorny issue. According to HR Daily Advisor, an employer may be held liable for an injury when:

  1. Employees are required (or strongly encouraged) to attend.
  2. The company is sponsoring the event.
  3. The employer stands to benefit from the event.

Keep in mind that alcohol at company-sponsored events could result in injuries that the company could also be held responsible for — prohibit or limit the intake of alcohol at company outings to prevent potential injuries.

The Solution:

There are several ways to reduce liability at company outings. Consider the three criteria above and consider how you can mitigate those factors. Incentivizing employee engagement may be tempting, but doing so could make the company liable for any potential injuries. Refrain from granting employees special privileges for attending the event, and don’t hold the event while employees are “on the clock.” Secondly, let an employee-led group of volunteers take initiative in planning activities. Additionally, consider encouraging employees to keep personal belongings stored away securely with locker locks to prevent any personal theft and casualty losses. Finally, consider mitigating liability by having employees sign a waiver prior to the event.

Remote Working

There are a wide range of benefits to both employers and employees when it comes to remote work. An increasing number of organizations are realizing this, and there’s no doubt that remote workers are the future of the workforce. However, remote work can lead to a false sense of security when it comes to liability. Once an employee is out of sight, is it safe to keep them out of mind?

Liability Concerns:

There are a couple important considerations that managers and HR professionals need to keep track of when establishing a remote work policy. For example, there is a common misconception that employers can only be held liable for injuries that occur on their premises. This isn’t the case; if a worker is injured during the course of work — whether that be in the office or while working remotely from home — the employer could be held liable for workers compensation.

 

A second issue is protecting confidential client/employee information. Remote workers may opt to use a wide range of devices to access sensitive information. These devices may not be secure, and they may transmit data over insecure connections. If cybercriminals get a hold of essential confidential data, it could bring productivity to a halt — or even incur costly lawsuits.

The Solution:

When it comes to physically protecting remote workers, a strictly reinforced reporting policy is necessary. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will not conduct home office inspections, it still argues that employers are liable for maintaining safe work conditions. Having employees send reports about potential workplace hazards or make requests for workplace accommodations gives employers an opportunity to intervene and prevent injuries before they occur.

 

To keep data secure, managers will need to instate strict policies pertaining to when, where, and on what device specific data can be accessed. Access to confidential information should be limited only to employees who absolutely need it. Furthermore, devices used to access work-related information must be equipped with antivirus software and a firewall. These steps will protect sensitive information (and, ultimately, the company).

 

With care, these perks can be implemented with a minimum amount of liability. Are there any other problematic perks that you think need to be highlighted? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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