A team-building trip is a trip whose aim is to boost the team spirit of a team, as well as to bring employees together through joint activities and games that improve their contacts and at the same time show the employer the employee’s predispositions, which he can later use to achieve goals and profits that are important for the company. The prospect of a team-building trip and the possibility of organising it has unfortunately changed with the Covid pandemic. In this difficult time for everyone, employers wishing to maintain the tradition of team-building trips are trying to fit in and adapt to the ever-changing constraints, hoping to provide staff, working in hybrid modes, with a sense of belonging to a team while having fun together in a whole group meeting. This article aims to help employers properly and legally prepare such a trip.
The question arises on an employer’s side, who wants to decide despite the existing pandemic for such a form of integration, how to organise a safe trip in times of pandemic and are there any legally regulated guidelines for such an organisation? There is also the question of whether the employer can obtain information from the employees on whether they are vaccinated, as the employer does not want to exceed the limit of people who can stay in one means of transport, because vaccinated people are not included in the limit.
So what should an employer do, knowing that the legal basis for an employee’s refusal to participate in a team-building trip is, for example, Article 210 § 1 of the Labour Code, which provides that if the working conditions do not comply with health and safety regulations and pose a direct threat to the health or life of the employee or if the work performed by the employee poses such a threat to other people, the employee has the right to refrain from work, immediately notifying his or her supervisor? How can an employer protect itself legally against possible claims and are there any such regulations at all? Following this, I will analyse all aspects that can protect the employer.
Health and safety issues
According to Article 207 of the Labour Code, the employer is responsible for health and safety at work in the workplace and is obliged to protect the health and life of employees by ensuring safe and hygienic working conditions with appropriate use of scientific and technical achievements. The employer’s responsibilities include: organising work in a manner that ensures safe and hygienic working conditions, responding to needs in the area of ensuring safety and hygiene at work and adjusting measures taken to improve the existing level of protection of the health and life of employees, taking into account changing conditions of work performance. In this respect, it is important to remember that, despite being on a business trip, employees are still bound by their obligation to be ready for work.
Obligations under COVID legislation
In order to ensure the general safety of the employee during the trip from a sanitary-epidemiological point of view, first of all it is very important to have a flow of information between the employer and the employees, and therefore to inform the employees that a person with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or in isolation or quarantine is not allowed to participate in the event and also to ask the participants of the trip to fill in a statement about their health status on the day of the trip. The employer should also make appropriate recommendations to employees indicating how to proceed in relation to staying safe during Covid times, based on the recommendations of the Minister of Health in this matter, and it is the responsibility of employees to carry them out. If a trip participant will have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 – it is necessary to immediately separate him from other people and ask to go home and to inform him of the need to stay at home and to contact his basic health care doctor by phone (obtaining a medical call). It is also important in such a situation to establish a list of people with whom the person has had contact and to establish the places where the person has moved in order to report the need for disinfection of the place by the personnel of the facility. The above information is a guideline available on the government website for organising events during the epidemic, but in our opinion it is also a guideline for organising a team-building trip.
RODO and employment law
As far as the provision of information to the employer about health status as well as about being vaccinated are considered that this is doubtful whether the employer can require employees to do so, as these are particularly sensitive data and represent employees’ medical records according to Article 9(1) RODO and therefore are more protected than other personal data. However, further provisions of Article 9 RODO state that an employer may obtain such data from employees if the employee gives his voluntary consent only. The Labour Code defines a catalogue of data to which the employer may have access in Article 221 of the Labour Code, however, it is so wide open that when referring to Article 221 § 4, which states that when it is necessary to realise a right or obligation arising from a provision of law, it is necessary to consider whether there is a specific provision imposing a right or obligation in the discussed scope.
Regarding the obligation to wear a mask on public transport, in the case of transport for a team building trip there is no difference between a narrow circle of people from the workplace and strangers on a city bus. Persons in a collective means of transport should have such masks, regardless of whether the number of vacant seats is half of the total number.
An obvious obligation of the employer set out in the Regulation of the Council of Ministers of 6 May 2021 on the establishment of certain restrictions, orders and prohibitions in connection with the occurrence of an epidemic is to provide the participants of the trip with basic health protection measures, as in the workplace. It is also worth checking whether these recommendations are followed at the accommodation, for example, whether the staff at the chosen accommodation disinfect common areas such as bathrooms, lobbies and buffets several times a day, as well as disinfecting the handles that open the doors of rooms and toilets. As a party to a short-term rental agreement, the employer is fully entitled to require compliance with these regulations by the service provider, who is liable for any breaches of these regulations entirely independently.
When it comes to eating out together, attention must be paid to the regulations relating to the operation of catering facilities. We should be aware that restaurateurs are obliged to maintain proper spacing between tables and to disinfect them, thus relieving the employer of this obligation and responsibility in this respect. The only thing we have to remember is that restaurant guests are obliged to remain in their masks, covering their mouths and noses, until they occupy the table at which they will eat. Again, the employer, as a party to the service contract, has every right to require compliance from the service provider.
It is also worth reminding employees of all these rules before departure, which is also an element of caring for employee safety.
Integration in a pandemic
Coming already to the essence of the integration trip, there is the question of choosing the form of integration, which is best to use. In order to adapt to the prevailing epidemic conditions, service providers, who have so far dealt with the organisation of integration trips, have expanded their activities to include the organisation of integration in accordance with accepted safety rules against virus transmission. In their offer, such entities present a wide catalogue of proposals for integration in the open air, taking into account the provision of all mandatory rules and health protection measures.
As indicated above, it is not a problem for the employer to apply all the safety rules in our country, because these measures are generally available. As shown above, the employer can therefore easily fulfil his obligation to provide employees with a safe integration trip as well as the integration itself. However, it depends on the employee whether he respects the safety rules established from above, and such an obligation under Article 100 § 2 (3) of the Labour Code rests on him during his stay at the workplace, and in this case during the team building trip.
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