There are many advantages to sponsoring an employee sports team or event, such as camaraderie, team building, exercise and just plain fun. However, what happens if an employee strains his back while pitching for your softball team or is hit by a golf ball during an outing to entertain clients or a fight breaks out and a third party is injured? It’s important for employers to understand the risks, including liability for a workers’ comp claim and liability for injuries of a third party caused by an employee.
While laws vary by state, the relationship of the company to the activity plays a key role in assessing liability. Some common guiding principles include:
• If the event is truly voluntary
• Did the manager tell the employee to attend?
• Is entertaining client’s part of the job description?
• Did the employer convey the expectation that all employees would attend?
• If an employer derives a direct business benefit from the activity beyond the intangible value of improvement in employee health and morale that is common to all kinds of recreation and social life
• If the event was on company property
• If the activity took place during normal working hours and the employee was compensated
• If the employer paid for the activity
• If employees are expected to build customer relationships by participating
Whether or not an injury during an event is while ‘in the course and scope of employment’ is not always clear-cut. This is why it is important you have a trusted advisor you can turn to when you have questions.
Here are guidelines to help minimize the risks and liabilities:
• Don’t hold events on company premises or on company time.
• Have employees sign waivers. Make sure employees know participation is voluntary and they’re playing at their own risk. Don’t require or encourage participation in anyway. Recognize, however, that waivers do not provide all-encompassing protection.
• Limit company participation in the costs of the program, such as buying equipment or uniforms, refreshments, etc. The smaller the financial commitment, the less likely the team will be viewed as an extension of work.
• For events that take place during working hours, be sure employees have the option of either attending the voluntary company event or working their regular job.
• Don’t give work-related speeches at such events.
• Know the state law. Some states provide forms that employers can require employees to sign.
• Include company policy on athletic and social events in the employee handbook.
• Prohibit alcohol.
• Treat all injuries consistently.
by Chris Senkbile
The UNICO team is here to help you make the right choices when it comes to risk management. If you are responsible for coordinating company events, give us a call for a complimentary evaluation that will help you minimize the risk and liability that you could end up being liable for. Contact us at 402-434-7200 or visit us online at www.unicogroup.com.