Well, it’s a little difficult to write about the perils of working in Scranton with Michael Scott as your boss when the entire office is attending a wedding, but here goes. After watching last night’s repeat episode of Jim’s and Pam’s wedding, I can’t say that getting married to a coworker is always a bad thing (I met my wife when I was clerking for a company after my second year of law school, and we will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary next month, and as Chris Rock has joked, “If my dad hadn’t sexually harassed my mom, I wouldn’t be here”).
Nor is inviting your coworkers to a wedding an absolute no-no (my wife and I obviously did that, too, and no one got into too much trouble). That said, office romances and non-work functions often bring trouble. Many employers worry about liability for conduct that occurs between employees at non-work sponsored functions, and rightly so. Many times, sexual harassment cases draw on activities that occur away from the workplace, as do all types of discrimination cases. Workers let their hair down when they’re away from the office, and these social activities can provide fertile ground for discrimination claims.
Although there wasn’t too much of that in this episode (and that’s always relative with this bunch), Pam’s statement that she knew “far too much about Andy’s scrotum” would send chills down the spine of even the most hardened HR director. But Andy’s splits and split scrotal sac make for one of the funniest episodes ever of The Office — if not for the actual split(s) themselves, or the sight of Andy in Pam’s car on the way to the hospital, then for Erin’s offer of a hankie to cushion Andy’s underside during the wedding ceremony.
So how should employers handle out-of-the-office events? Well, with a little caution, and maybe a little cautionary tale. Make sure employees understand that, while they are out of the office, these are still their coworkers, and what happens at these events can (and will) affect workplace relations. Few things are worse than the employee who acts a fool after imbibing too much during a social event where coworkers are present, except for when that employee also couples his or her conduct with the drunken grope or inappropriate comment. In sum, while employers can’t prevent employees from attending events together outside the workplace (nor necessarily should they try), it is important that everyone understands “what happens at the office party does NOT stay at the office party.”