Apr 19 Injuries at After-Hours Company Events
As the weather warms, companies often offer employee events. Whether it’s a retreat, softball game, or picnic, it’s a great way to acknowledge employee contribution, but these events can also increase employer liability risk.
Here are a few things to consider before your next company-sponsored event.
Workers’ Compensation May Apply
Employers may not think injuries incurred at a company-sponsored event qualify for workers’ compensation, but this isn’t always the case.
In Pennsylvania, several cases found when an employee sustained their injury they were “engaged in the furtherance of the business or affairs of the employer.” Even though they were not in the workplace, they were still serving the company.
One case awarded benefits to a woman injured in a charity volleyball game organized and “encouraged” by the employer. Team-building events can compel an employee to participate in an event as they feel there could be professional repercussions if they do not attend. The factor for determining eligibility is whether an employee attends voluntarily or as a requirement of their job.
If an employee must choose between attending an event and losing a day’s pay or a vacation day, the courts would strongly consider them eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they injure themselves during the event.
Employees should have the choice to skip the event if they wish. If they could work their normal day with pay, but choose to attend voluntarily, workers’ compensation benefits may not apply.
Employees asked to run an event, prepare food, buy refreshments, serve drinks or perform other duties are working and qualify for benefits.
Sexual Harassment Can Occur Off-Site or After-Hours
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states “prevention is the best tool for the elimination of sexual harassment.” Employers have a responsibility to do so, even if it occurs off-site or after-hours at a company-sponsored event.
Unwelcome actions or comments that lead to an offensive or hostile work environment or those behaviors the employee feels they must endure if they want to keep their job constitutes sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment does occur at social functions, especially when the event involves alcohol. Employees can file lawsuits, and a court of law may find the employer responsible.
Pennsylvania’s strict dram shop laws don’t extend to work-related events and a business typically isn’t held liable for the injuries caused by an intoxicated employee attending an event. This doesn’t mean serving alcohol at company-sponsored events does not have risks.
Working employees who drink alcohol at an event are the employer’s responsibility, and this can easily happen at fun, social gatherings. They may want to get in on the fun, but if they injure someone “within the scope of employment,” the employer may pay for any resulting damages.
When an employer asks employees to work an event, they must remind them they are working and alcohol consumption is not permitted. Better yet, make all company-sponsored events alcohol-free. If an alcohol-related accident does occur, the company has done what it can to prevent alcohol consumption which could prevent legal action.
Employee-organized events can also cause problems for an employer. When an employer encourages attendance, provides financial assistance, or assigns duties to employees they may be liable if someone injures themselves or another during or after the event.
Company-sponsored events should be fun, but this doesn’t mean your business shouldn’t take precautions. Proper insurance coverage, along with sexual harassment training programs, are extremely important, especially for liability issues.
Let Gilbert’s Risk Solutions’ qualified agents tailor your coverage, address your specific risks, and protect your business.