- Check the COVID-19 infection rates in your area, which can be accomplished by consulting the applicable state and local health department websites. Based on the current status of the pandemic, consideration should be given as to whether it is safe to hold an in-person event. Given the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, the CDC has noted that virtual gatherings are the safest and healthiest options for this year.
- Consult state and local COVID-19 orders and mandates to determine if there are any applicable restrictions.
- Attendance should be limited to a level that allows an employer to limit or reduce contact between attendees.
- Host outdoor rather than indoor events as much as possible and have attendees practice social distancing and wear masks when not eating or drinking. If indoors, avoid poorly ventilated spaces. Open windows if possible.
- Avoid activities such as singing and chanting.
- Do not allow costumes or holiday outfits to be worn at the expense of proper face coverings.
- Keep music levels down so people don't have to shout or speak loudly to be heard.
- If food and drink are served at the event, employers should take into account the risk of contact transmission and consider avoiding pot-luck style meals and self-service food stations.
- Provide hand sanitizer stations, masks and other supplies.
- Prior to the event, remind employees about the risks associated with COVID-19 and ask attendees to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the event.
- Make any in-person event voluntary in nature so that anyone who is uncomfortable attending an in-person event can opt out.
In addition to the above factors, employers should consider what do about employees who have been deemed ineligible to enter the workplace, such as those with COVID-19 and those in quarantine because of potential exposures. The CDC specifically recommends that individuals who have an increased risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19 or who live or work with such individuals avoid large gatherings. Employers, however, should take caution in excluding such individuals as those exclusions could result in a claim of discrimination in certain circumstances.
Apart from the CDCs guidance, employers should consider the potential negative publicity that such a gathering could create especially if not all of the attendees are complying with the social distancing and masking rules.
Because in-person holiday gatherings carry the risk of spreading COVID-19 and given the spike in cases, employers are being encouraged to have virtual gatherings. For those employers who choose to host in-person holiday gatherings, they should refer to the CDCs guidance to implement measures to help create a healthy and safe environment for all those in attendance.
Jill Waldman represents a broad range of employers in federal and state courts and before various administrative agencies in matters involving all types of employment law claims, including discrimination, harassment ...
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