By Lily Nhan, Esq.

“No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burdens of another.” – Joseph Addison

April is a loaded, busy month. To many, it is the month with several significant religious dates, including Easter, Orthodox Easter, Ramadan, Passover, etc. To some, April has a bad reputation. For starters, the month kicks off with a day dedicated solely to making practical jokes, called “April Fool’s Day.” For the next two weeks, people are scrambling to prepare their taxes in time by Tax Day. Needless to say, April keeps us busy! In fact, April keeps us so busy that many people may be overlooking an important week dedicated to honoring essential people in our lives – our administrative professionals.

Administrative Professionals Week is a week dedicated to the invaluable assistants and staff who contribute to successful businesses and industries in all sectors. This year, the honorary week is celebrated from April 24th, 2022 through April 30th, 2022. It is typically observed on the Wednesday of the last full week of April. This year, National Administrative Professionals Day is on April 27th, 2022.

History of Administrative Professionals Week

In 1942, after World War II and the Great Depression, the National Secretaries Association was founded as a way to recruit people to fill administrative roles in the workplace. Due to the increased responsibilities and skills of administrative workers, the organization changed its name from Professional Secretaries Association to The International Association of Administrative Professionals. The International Association of Administrative Professionals organization grew internationally, and to this day, it continues to provide training and support to administrative professionals.

The United States Department of Commerce organized the first National Secretaries Week in 1952, to be observed on Wednesday. Although it was originally celebrated in June in 1955, it was moved to the last week of April, as it remains today. In 2000, the name was changed to Administrative Professionals Week. Although the name of the holiday has changed several times, the purpose of this date remains to celebrate all the hard-working administrative professionals in businesses across the world.

What Qualifies As An Administrative Professional?

Although one may have an idea of what an administrative professional is, the term is very broad. The term “administrative professional” encompasses multiple jobs that share similar responsibilities that could include all or some of certain qualities1. The International Association of Administrative Professionals defines administrative professionals as individuals who are responsible for administrative tasks and coordinate information in order to support an office environment, and who are dedicated to furthering their growth in their chosen profession. The term “administrative” includes a wide variety of duties, including office management, data entry, sending mail, bookkeeping, scheduling, monitoring, answering the phone, clerical work, speaking and coordinating with clients, and record maintenance. Essentially, they are the people that keep the wheels on a well-oiled machine running.

How to Legally Observe Administrative Professionals Week?

Hopefully, you are now inspired to make this year’s Administrative Professionals Week memorable for your administrative professionals. Whether you express gratitude by giving a gift, throwing a party, or writing a thank you card, be sure to exercise good judgment on safety and potential employer liability.

Company Sponsored Party

As a basic principle in California, employers may be held vicariously liable for torts committed by its employee within the scope of employment. This potential liability extends to firm-sponsored parties and alcohol consumption. In McCarty v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Bd., (1974) 12 Cal.3d 677, 681-82, the Court determined that “employee social and recreational activity on the company premises, endorsed with the express or implied permission of the employer, falls within the course of employment if the activity was conceivably of some benefit to the employer or otherwise was a customary incident of the employment relationship.”

By attending a firm-sponsored event that is intended for its employees’ benefit and the employer’s relationship with its employees, that employee could be found attending the party within the scope of their employment.

If you elect to throw a party and also furnish or serve alcohol, the employer can be liable for the employee’s drunk driving after a work-sponsored party. In Purton v Marriot International, Inc. (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 499, a company was throwing an employee appreciation party and served alcohol to their employees. The employee, after leaving the appreciation party, drove home but then caused a fatal accident with his co-worker when driving his co-worker home. Plaintiffs alleged that the employer threw the party for the employee’s benefit by endorsing employee-employer relations and encouraging team building. The Court of Appeals found that a reasonable trier of fact could determine that the employee was acting within the scope of his employment when he consumed alcohol at the employee appreciation party.

To limit the potential exposure of drunk driving after a work-sponsored party, we recommend several steps not only including the following:

  1. Hiring bartenders or offering a limited number of drinks to the guests
  2. Offering food so people are not drinking on empty stomachs
  3. Providing non-alcoholic drink options
  4. Offering transportation to employees’ homes so they avoid driving home from the party

Thank You Cards and Presents

You may decide to skip a company-sponsored party and opt for a present or thank you card instead. However, there still remains potential exposure to liability.

In the context of a supervisor and administrative employee relationship, the supervisor employee must exercise caution when giving gifts and cards to the administrative staff. Under California Government Code §12940(j)(1), an employer can be liable for acts of sexual harassment committed by a supervisor, whether or not the employer knows about it. A supervisor can be defined as one who is authorized to undertake tangible employment decisions affecting the employees or an individual who is authorized to draft any employee’s day-to-day work activities.

However well-intentioned you may be, there are several considerations regarding the appropriateness of a workplace gift during Administrative Professionals Week. Gifts that may have some romantic overtures may give rise to a potential claim of sexual harassment, as the harasser’s motive is not dispositive of whether an act is sexual harassment. If a gift could lead to questioning the sender’s motivation, there could be a perception of favoritism or inappropriate sexual advances. Romantic gifts that may not be sexual in nature can also make a person feel uncomfortable. Examples of romantic gifts include lingerie, personal care products, perfume, jewelry, or sexually-driven gag gifts.

Consequently, if you decide to show your administrative staff your appreciation by way of gift-giving, the recommendation is to give a neutral gift, such as gift cards2, mugs, stationery, coffee, edible goods, etc.

This Upcoming Administrative Professionals Week

With offices welcoming the return of their in-person staff after lengthy social distancing in recent years, you might be considering doing something special this year to celebrate your administrative staff this April 27th. If you have any questions or ideas that you are considering, please contact our attorneys at Bradley, Gmelich, and Wellerstein LLP on how to legally and safely implement an appropriate celebration.

Even if you decide not to celebrate at all, be sure to take a moment of your day on April 27th to express your appreciation to that important someone or village of people in your life that assist you at work. As the old saying goes, “be nice to secretaries. They are the real gatekeepers to the world.”

1 This colloquial definition is different from the Administrative Professional Exemption as defined under the Industrial  Welfare Commission Wage Orders or under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

2 A gift card in this scenario is discretionary and therefore does not need to be factored into the calculation for the regular rate of pay.

Lily Nhan Lily Nhan, Esq. has extensive litigation experience involving premises liability, business litigation, motor vehicle collisions, dog bites, construction defect, catastrophic injuries, and wrongful death. Her litigation experience working for both the plaintiff and defense bar has contributed to her success in achieving outstanding resolutions for her clients, which she defends both strategically and passionately to achieve favorable resolutions to civil claims.

Ms. Nhan is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and is a member of the Association of Southern California Defense Counsel, Glendale Bar Association, and Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Los Angeles. She has been recognized by Pasadena Magazine’s “Top Attorneys” issue as one of the Top Attorneys in personal injury practice in 2013-2014 and 2017-2018.