You've been given the daunting task of planning an upcoming department meeting. How did I get myself into this? you wonder, breaking into a cold sweat. How will I find a convenient location? What if a fire breaks out? What type of activity should be planned? What are all the costs involved with a hotel? Don't panic. An awareness of legal issues will help ensure that your meeting runs smoothly and you avoid any unnecessary risks. 

 Analyze the Risk
If you're planning a meeting that includes team-building activities, choose wisely. While rock climbing may help your team bond, it could cause physical injury. And if something does happen to go wrong, you could be held liable. Make sure the benefits of any activity outweigh the risks and then take all the necessary precautions to minimize those risks.

Be Prepared
One way to reduce risk is to be prepared. Considering potential risks is an important part of the planning process. It may seem overly cautious, but make sure attendees are familiar with fire exit locations, emergency phone numbers and any other pertinent information. This can often be accomplished in a brief announcement at the start of your meeting.

Confidentiality Is Key
Many organizations require their employees to sign confidentiality agreements, which stipulate that company information cannot be shared with the outside world. If you discuss confidential information with someone outside the company, you can be held liable. Remind others that everything you hear in meetings is confidential, even if no one explicitly states that it is. Depending on the circumstances you could pay damages, especially if it means lost revenue for your company. If you're speaking at a meeting where an outside guest is present, make sure any topics you discuss are already public information. 

Permission Granted
Whether you're speaking in a meeting or there's an outside speaker, you need to make sure that you have permission from the copyright owner before reproducing or including any material from outside sources. And if you're the owner, you should also ensure that your materials are copyrighted. While this is not a legal requirement, it does put your audience on notice.

Read the Fine Print
If you're planning an off-site meeting and it requires hotel accommodations, make sure you read the contract's fine print. Some hotels require a 90% room pick-up (for example if you book 100 rooms they expect you to use 90 or more). If you don't use 90%, they may include a clause requiring you to pay attrition fees for any lost revenues that the hotel would've received had the rooms been used. These fees could include in-room movies, telephone calls and even drinks in the hotel lounge! Our advice: pay a set fee or, better yet, negotiate a sliding fee. Also, if any of the language in the contract is vague, or if you're unsure about a clause, make sure you address it before you sign.

By carefully planning your meeting and avoiding the risks, you'll easily step around the legal minefields and come out unscathed! 

 1.The Wharton Center for Applied Research


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