Category Personnel/Employment
Title Avoid Workers’ Comp Liability at Employee Events
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Preview Avoid Workers’ Comp Liability at Employee Events
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Avoid Workers' Comp Liability at Employee Events

All states have some type of workers' compensation legislation, which basically says that if a worker is injured "on the job," the employer will pay medical expenses, either through a state workers' comp system based on employer contributions to the system or through employer-paid private workers' comp insurance, depending on the state. Under these laws, in return for bills being paid, the worker forfeits the right to sue the employer for damages. Most people consider this trade-off to be reasonable.

One of the problems that can occur is an employer's obligation to pay for injuries when employees get hurt at a company-sponsored, or school-sponsored, or school-sponsored, recreational activities. Two decisions by the New Hampshire Supreme Court will help illustrate the problem. In one case (Appeal of James Cooper, No. 94-635), the court awarded workers' comp to an employee who was injured during an off-hours corporate softball game, because the team was part of the company's "cultural climate." In another case, the court ruled that an employee's estate was entitled to workers' comp benefits after the employee died while playing volleyball during a lunch break (Appeal of Estate of Balamotis, No. 95.425). In fact, many courts have ruled that employers are, in fact, liable for such injuries because participation in company-sponsored recreational, social, or sporting event is often deemed to be so closely connected to the employment relationship that it creates a compensable situation under many workers' compensation laws.

Bottom line: The following six suggestions on how to lower your school's liability are offered in the May 2004 issue of the You & the Law newsletter:

  1. Hold the event off the premises. That will help eliminate any implication that company work is occurring before, during, or after the activity.
  2. Make it clear that participation is voluntary. In all communications about the event, remind employees that they are not obligated to participate.
  3. Notify employees that they're off duty during the hours of the event and that they're free to attend or not attend. Also inform them that they're free to leave whenever they wish.
  4. Hold the event during the day and for a limited time period. Research shows that employees are less likely to encounter injuries if the event takes place between noon and 2 P.M. rather than after work from 6 P.M. to midnight.
  5. Assign supervisors to monitor employee events for behavior or potentially dangerous situations.
  6. Check your school's insurance coverage, and consider buying so-called "special events" coverages if necessary.

[Note: Number 2 above regarding voluntary participation is certainly one of the easiest suggestions to implement.—Editor]

LLU 18.1

Notice: This article is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It has been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engages in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction, and the specific applications of laws to particular facts requires the advices of an attorney.

Association of Christian Schools International
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