Company Outings — Compensable fun?

July 13th, 2004 by

The business section of the New York Times features a light-hearted look at the problem of misbehaving at the company picnic. While this article focuses on controlling damage to your career, LynchRyan has traditionally focused on keeping injuries at social events off of workers compensation loss runs.
This is the season for company outings — picnics, golfing, perhaps even an Outward Bound experience. Depending upon how the events are structured, employees who are injured might be able to file workers compensation claims. For example, if your company sponsors a golf tournament, and if you ask employees to staff the booths and provide support, they are in effect “working” and any injuries (slip and fall, lifting a box of beverages) would likely be compensable. The exposure may go a step further. For example, an employee out golfing with valued clients who tears his rotator cuff swinging a 7 iron could reasonably claim that the injury occurred “in the course and scope of employment.”
Generally, to fall under workers compensation the employee must be engaged in an activity that explicitly furthers the interests of the company. Another important criteria is whether or not the activity is voluntary. If employees are compelled — or strongly encouraged — to attend and participate, any injuries are more likely to be considered work related. So put up the volley ball net, but never tease people into participating.
Are we recommending that companies avoid sponsored recreation and the entertaining of clients? Not at all. But as with all risks, we think it’s important to keep your eyes open. Make sure the event is safely structured. Don’t ask normally sedentary employees to take on physically demanding tasks. And above all, make sure any alcoholic beverages are dispensed by a licensed and fully insured professional. Have fun, but be careful.