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Team-Building Events: Fun is good; employee humiliation is bad

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

It's summertime, and corporate thoughts turn to company picnics and outdoor morale-boosting efforts. One word of caution: If your team-building exercises go beyond three-legged sack races and into the realm of reality TV, you could be headed for a lawsuit.

Engaging employees in fun and games is fine, but make sure that the joke's not at one employee's expense. Stay away from activities that could embarrass, humiliate or injure employees.

Recent case: A California security company staged employee team competitions to boost its sales team's unity. Part of the exercise involved spanking members of the losing teams with yard signs. Other "fun" punishments: Employees were forced to eat baby food and wear diapers.

At least one employee's morale wasn't boosted. Janet Orlando quit over the incidents and sued, alleging sexual harassment. A jury awarded Orlando $500,000 in damages for emotional distress and lost wages, plus it slapped an extra $1.2 million onto the company's tab for punitive damages. Two supervisors who helped concoct the exercise were found personally liable for $50,000 each. (Orlando v. Alarm One, Fresno County Superior Court, 2006)

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