Imagine this: “Joe,” your employee, suffers an injury at your company holiday party that incapacitates him. Will his injuries and time off be covered by workers’ comp?
Like so much else when it comes to workers’ comp, the answer to this question is, “It depends.”
Even though each state has its own workers’ comp law, the question is usually whether the injured person was acting “within the course and scope of employment.”
- the employer directly or implicitly endorses the event and might conceivably benefit from it
- the employer requires or expects employees to attend
- employees are paid to participate, or
- if the incident took place on the employer’s property, the property contained an unsafe condition and the employer failed to correct the condition.
Cancel the party?
Should this level of liability cause companies to cancel their holiday parties?
No. But there are steps companies can take to protect themselves:
- Think seriously about whether you want to serve alcohol at the function. If you must serve alcohol, employ people outside the company to serve it and make sure they’re educated about cutting people off when appropriate. And if an employee shows up drunk, don’t hesitate to ask him or her to leave.
- If attendance is not required, clearly state that in the invitation, whether it be an email or a flyer posted in the workplace.
- Don’t encourage attendance by either implying attendance will help the employee advance or that failure to attend will indicate the worker isn’t a team player.
- Don’t conduct any work-related activities at the event, such as training or award presentations. Even inviting vendors or clients can be problematic.
- Try to schedule the event on the weekend and at a location other than company property.
- Invite family members. This supports an argument that the event isn’t work-related.
Have you ever had a workers’ comp claim due to an injury at a company social event, whether it was a holiday party, retreat or summer picnic? Let us know about it in the comments below.