As vaccinations are increasing, company-sponsored summer events are restarting. But with all of the fun comes additional liability issues for employers, beyond concern for the spread of COVID-19. From workers’ compensation claims to impaired driving accidents to the spread of COVID-19, or sexual harassment charges, special events can expose employers to serious risks.
Here is a common scenario – Your company decides to host a company picnic during work hours as a sign of appreciation for the hard work that your employees have provided throughout the year. If an employee is injured during the festivities, are they entitled to any workers’ compensation benefits?
If your company picnic is held during normal working hours, then employees may be considered to be attending within the course of employment. To determine whether the picnic was within the course of employment, the courts will examine the:
- Extent to which your company expected or required employees to attend
- Degree to which your company benefits from the activity
- Degree of sponsorship or participation by your company
- Whether the activity takes place on company property
- When the activity occurs in relation to work
- Frequency of the activity
Several courts have recognized that an employee’s voluntary attendance at an event sponsored by his/her employer – off the employer’s premises and outside of normal working hours – cannot reasonably be viewed as conduct within the scope of his/her employment.
However, if it appears that your employee was assigned to attend the event, then they may receive benefits. For example, suppose your employee chooses between attending the event, losing their pay for the day, or even using their personal/vacation days. In that case, it may appear that their job assignment for that day required them to attend. As a result, your employee may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for any injuries that occur that day.
A primary factor in determining the compensability is whether your employee was provided with the option of either attending the voluntary company event or working their regular job. Ask yourself, “If my employee decides not to attend the event, could they simply work the entire day and be paid just like any other day?” If the answer is yes, then you can reasonably conclude that your employee made a voluntary choice. Thus, workers’ compensation benefits would not apply at the special function.
It is important that your company does not require attendance at company-sponsored events and that attendance requirements are managed accordingly. Mandatory attendance at functions can result in workers’ compensation claims if one of your attending employees is injured. In that case, the employee will be considered to have been acting in the course of employment. Even if a company-sponsored event is technically not mandatory, if “the degree of expectation from the employer that all employees would attend” is high enough, then a close correlation between the social activity and employment is apparent. A court may infer that attendance was expected of all employees.
When planning a company-sponsored event this summer, be sure to take extra precautions to minimize your risks. Taking a little extra time to plan can help make your event safe and fun!
Checklist for Keeping Your Company Event Safe and Fun
- Make it clear to employees that your event is purely optional and their attendance is not required.
- If alcohol will be served, cash bar or ticket systems are good alternatives to an open bar, as they tend to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed by employees. Also, be certain to provide a variety of non-alcoholic beverages and plenty of food.
- Have the party at a restaurant or hire outside help so that professional wait staff or bartenders are serving the alcohol rather than employees or other company personnel.
- Make sure that alcohol service is stopped well before the end of the event.
- Consider a creative, non-alcoholic company-sponsored event, where the focus is on fun activities rather than alcohol. Spend the money you’ll save on door prizes, games or better food. However, be sure employees know they cannot bring alcohol to the event, even as a gift or donation.
- Review and update your company’s harassment and substance abuse policies, and that updated copies are distributed and posted in the workplace. Make sure all employees are aware that these policies apply not only to work-related situations but also to office social functions, even if they are not on work premises.
- Before the event, remind your employees about your company policies and emphasize that they are welcome to have a good time but are expected to act responsibly.
- Avoid serving greasy, salty or sweet foods, which tend to make people thirsty, and serve foods rich in starch and protein instead, as they slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
For more information, please contact Chris Babos, Director of Consulting Client Services at 708.845.3331, or send an email to email@example.com. Note: The above information is based on current case law; therefore, any future court decisions that become case law decisions could affect this information
Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.