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Waterboarding at Work???

March 4, 2008

According to an article in The Salt Lake Tribune , an employee has sued their employer alleging the employer used several unconventional motivational techniques. The employee alleges that his former employer allowed a supervisor to draw mustaches on employee’s faces, take away their chairs and beat on their desks with wooden paddles because it “resulted in increased revenues for the company.” In addition, the employee alleges that the same supervisor poured water, from a gallon jug, over his mouth and nostrils while co-workers held him down as he struggled. The employee alleges that the technique was similar to the interrogation technique known as waterboarding. At the conclusion of this “team building technique”, the supervisor is alleged to have told employees that he wanted them to work as hard on making sales as the employee worked on breathing while being waterboarded.

 

The employer countered that these allegations were an exaggeration and that the exercise was a dramatization of a story in which a young man asks Socrates to become his teacher. According to the employer, Socrates responded by plunging the young man’s head under water and telling him that once his desire for knowledge was equivalent to his desire to breathe, he would become his teacher. The employer went on to characterize the exercise as a “team building” exercise and the supervisor’s conduct as humorous and team and camaraderie building.

 

The Bottom Line:

 

Regardless of how humorous or fun you think a team building event is, before you decide to use the technique consider whether it will pass the “what were you thinking?” test. Any event that places your employees at risk or embarrasses or humiliates them is not a team building exercise but an invitation to be sued. Many employers believe this can be circumvented by a release or by stating the event was voluntary. These defenses are usually not going to protect your company from suit.

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