HR Minute

Total Eclipse of … Liability?

We don’t mean to darken anyone’s daywe want our clients and their employees to join in on the 2017 eclipse festivities as much as everyone elsebut we need to alert you as to some issues and suggest some precautions for employers to maximize fun and minimize liability during the eclipse. As lawyers, we just cannot avoid the gravitational pull of the Nervous Nellie Star System.

Enough with the puns, here are the two main issues with which to be concerned:

LEAVE: Like you, employees who do not live or work on the path of totality are thinking about playing hooky to check out the eclipse. What to do? If the employee asks for leave before the eclipse, you treat such leave request in the same manner you treat all leave requests. Two things to avoid: (1) being dismissive of such requests—there may be some religious motivations behind the request for leave; and (2) favoritism as to who will be allowed to take off that day. If it appears that Eclipse Fever is running high in the workplace, consider giving employees time off to go see the eclipse or host an Eclipse Viewing Party! We have several clients organizing eclipse viewing events on their parking decks to boost morale and make it less likely that employees will take off the entire day. Moreover, the path of the partial eclipse is wide and some employees may be satisfied with “doing something” to feel part of what is becoming a national event. Unexcused absences, which may be inevitable, must likewise be treated in accordance with your polices.
SAFETY: If you decide to host an eclipse party, we recommend that you remind employees of the injury risks from participating in such event. This should not be a burdensome undertaking–there are plenty of official, government sponsored websites out there with competent information, including this one from NASA: How to View the 2017 Solar Eclipse Safely. To the extent you provide or sell eclipse glasses to your employees, please make sure that they are “NASA-approved” and consider having employees execute a liability wavier. 

A final note as to why this eclipse (out of the two per year that the planet observes) is so special. This eclipse will cross then entire continental US, coast-to-coast, and will be visible, at least partially, to a substantial number of the US population. Hospitality clients report that “2017 Eclipse Tourism” has given them a significant boost in what is otherwise the very slow back-to-school season. The next great US eclipse is slated for 2024, but will not cross the country coast-to-coast; it will rather travel up through Mexico and the US East Coast. 2045 will be the year in which we will have another coast-to-coast eclipse. As a result, for many, this will be a once-in-a-life time opportunity to see such an event without having to travel far. 

You have indulged your employees as to other “fever” activities, such as rallies for hometown teams in major sporting events. Having some fun with the 2017 Eclipse may help engender similar goodwill from your employees. So despite the minor risks noted above, consider buying a few ice-creams bars, setting up a speaker on your parking deck playing the E.T. Soundtrack (or “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”), putting on some dark shades, and embracing the Dark Side!

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