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Make sure picnics and parties are off the clock—And please limit the alcohol

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in Human Resources

Summer is the time for company picnics. If you throw an employee party that involves alcohol, make sure no one is on the clock or has to do work on behalf of the organization.

Better yet, don’t provide alcohol. Or hold the event at a site outside company control, such as a fairground or amusement park, simply providing entrance tickets and a place to gather.

In the following case, an employer didn’t heed that advice and wound up facing a third-party negligence lawsuit.

Recent case: Todd Kinsey worked as a service technician and maintenance person for a garage that provides snowplowing service. When the winter holidays approached, a supervisor suggested a day of fun, including bowling and poker. Employees came to the garage, clocked in and headed to a bowling alley, where they bowled and drank beer. The group then went back to the garage for a few hands of Texas hold ’em and more beer.

Then a snowstorm struck, which meant snowplow duty called. Kinsey headed home in his car, and a former employee came along for the ride. Kinsey was going to change clothes and then return to start removing snow for the garage’s customers. But on the way, Kinsey had an accident that killed his passenger.

The passenger’s estate sued, alleging negligent supervision on the garage’s part.

The Court of Appeals of Ohio said the case could go forward, based in part on evidence that Kinsey was clocked in, was expected to work after drinking alcohol and had an accident while furthering company business. (Whelan v. Vanderwist of Cincinnati, Inc., No. 2007-G-2769, Court of Appeals of Ohio, 2008)

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