Work functions: even if attendance is not mandatory, employees often feel compelled to attend.
Under most circumstances employers are permitted to require their employees attend a work function (even if it is outside normal business hours), because most states are at-will employment states. This means that an employee can be terminated or quit for any reason or no reason, as along as the employee is not part of a protected class, and the reason for termination is not unlawful discrimination. In at-will employment states, employees can be legally fired for not attending a mandatory work function that occurs outside normal business hours (even if that event occurs far away from their place of employment). Typical functions include holiday parties, meetings, weekend or evening retreats, and social or charity events. Sometimes these events are explicitly mandatory and sometimes there is strong peer pressure associated with attending— which makes them essentially mandatory events.
Compensation for time spent and travel expenses are also related concerns. Salaried employees can expect NOT to be paid for the additional time spent at an event (as they are not entitled to overtime pay). It is not required for salaried, exempt employees to receive any reimbursement for reasonable travel expenses. However, employees paid hourly and other non-exempt salaried employees are entitled to pay for hours worked, plus overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. However, because time spent at a social event is not considered to be “working time,” non-exempt employees are not entitled to compensation for this time.
An employee may have a religious reason for wanting to miss a mandatory work function or they may wish to ask for permission to abstain from any activities that conflict with their deeply held religious beliefs. An employee whose religious belief conflicts with attendance at a work function or participation in certain activities cannot be compelled to participate as a condition of his or her employment. Such a demand would likely violate the anti-religious discrimination laws under Title VII. The same is true for employees who cannot participate because they are on FMLA leave or maternity leave. Compelling their participation or punishing them for failure to attend would likely violate Title VII’s prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination or the FMLA itself.
Typically, mandatory after-hours work functions are at worst a small inconvenience. However, if you are an employee who is a member of a protected class and behavior crosses the line you may have a harassment claim.
For more information check out, reach out to PCW Law Firm.