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Regulating Employee Lifestyles

I’m sending a few of my employees to Reno for a work conference. I don’t want them to “indulge” and have it reflect poorly on my business. Can I regulate their activities at the conference if they’re technically not at work?

You can really only regulate your employees’ private activities in or out of the workplace if it directly affects your business affairs. Employers often regulate “lifestyle” issues such as what an employee wears to work, whether an employee can work outside of the business and whether an employee’s spouse may also work at the same business.

Sometimes a policy can go too far and interfere with an employee’s rights, including freedom of association and privacy. You must balance the business risk with the intrusion into your employees’ private lives. The factors to consider include the nature of the conduct, the nature of your business and the potential harm that could result from the conduct.

There are some situations where it might make sense for you to be able to regulate employees’ lives when they’re off the job. For example, if you have a health care business, you may want to have a nonsmoking policy for your employees, to set a good example for your patients. A less intrusive policy would simply prohibit smoking at the workplace, in conformity with existing law, but many health-related businesses also prohibit all employee smoking.

Ask yourself whether your concerns are legitimate. If one of your employees goes out one night after the conference and has a few too many adult beverages, is that something that affects your business? Probably not. But if they happen to have a few clients with them, or you run a substance abuse facility, you may have a stronger case that your concern about your business’s reputation is legitimate.

Generally, what employees do during non-working hours away from the workplace is their own business. However, if you are paying your employees to be at the conference, you could certainly regulate how they behave during that time. After hours, your employees have the right to be left alone.

If you demote, suspend or fire an employee for lawful conduct that occurred away from work and you didn’t have a legitimate business reason for doing so, the employee may be entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and benefits.

Regulating employees’ off-duty behavior can be very risky. If you are going to implement a policy that prohibits some kind of off-duty conduct, make sure that policy is clear and in writing. Keep in mind that different rules may apply for religious associations and nonprofit corporations.

Mary Luros is a business law attorney with Hudson & Luros LLP in Napa, and can be reached at The information provided here is not legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship with the author. The author makes no representations as to the reliability or accuracy of the above information.

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