by Heather M Eichenbaum Esq
Employee handbooks, setting forth employment guidelines and requirements, are essential to protecting your park from employee lawsuits, as well as useful in defending third-party suits for personal injury.
All parks should have a handbook, given to each new hire and reviewed and signed off on by the new employee and their trainer when introductory training is completed. This review and acknowledgment of your rules and regulations will go far in defending your park in the event of any employee allegation of wrongdoing, as well as being helpful when you are called upon to defend your employees’ alleged wrongdoing.
Handbooks cannot, from a practical perspective, be exhaustive, but they should set forth the most significant rules and regulations. Following are the three most important topics that should be included.
Drug Policy. This policy must clearly prohibit any type of illegal drug use, require proof for prescription drug use, and inform the employee that you perform random drug testing to ensure compliance. Make sure you perform that drug testing and maintain the results. This will be particularly significant in defending a third-party suit for personal injury.
Sexual Harassment Policy. This policy must unequivocally prohibit both direct harassment and propositioning (“quid pro quo” harassment), as well as direct and indirect behaviour that could create a “hostile workplace.” A claim for hostile work environment harassment can be claimed simply by testifying that a fellow employee tells sexually explicit jokes and, once complained of, the supervisor failed to take action to stop that behaviour. A park, though a place for fun, must maintain a level of professionalism. You must establish a procedure for handling complaints that makes clear that there will be no retaliation for asserting a complaint and clearly set forth that procedure in the handbook.
Equal Employment and Non-Discrimination Policy. Set forth the fact that you do not participate in, and do not condone, discriminatory practices. The repercussion for discrimination should be severe and set forth clearly. Discrimination claims are common, both among employees and third parties who visit your park. A strong, clear policy is imperative in defending against these claims.
Other topics for your handbook should include a smoking policy, internet use policy, confidentiality policy relating to knowledge acquired at your park, policy outlining and indicating your compliance with the Family Medical Leave Act (in the United States), policy regarding communications with the media, emergency evacuation and crisis policy, and general rules and regulations concerning employment dress code, hours, benefits and expectations. Finally, the handbook should make clear that it is not a contract of employment. Again, this list is certainly not exhaustive but provides a good start toward a beneficial employee handbook.
Heather Eichenbaum is an attorney with Spector Gadon & Rosen PC, located in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Florida. As well as defending amusement venues, she also provides training and corporate assistance. Clients include Six Flags, Steel Pier, Gillian’s Wonderland, Holiday World and Reithoffer Shows. If you have questions you would like to see addressed in a future column, contact Heather at +1 215-241-8856 or: firstname.lastname@example.org