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Play ball! But prevent legal risks at company activities

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Say your marketing director breaks his leg during an after-hours employee basketball-league game. Who's responsible? Courts are very likely to say your company is.

In fact, companies are finding that almost any employee activity remotely associated with employment holds potential for a successful workers' comp claim.

Company liability depends largely on one question: To what degree did your company sponsor the event?

If you gained some benefit from the activity—say, in the form of publicity—you'll very likely be liable for injuries arising from the activity. If the connection is less clear, the liability issue becomes a case-by-case decision.

Example: The New Hampshire Supreme Court awarded workers' comp to a worker injured during an off-hours corporate softball game because the team was part of the company's "cultural climate." (Cooper, No. 94-635)

Advice: To avoid workers' comp liability in such cases, draw a clear line between the activity and your organization's involvement. Here are four ways:

1. Hold the event off company premises. This will help eliminate any implication that work is being done before, during or after the activity.

2. Make clear that participation is voluntary. Make this point in fliers, e-mails or other communications about the event.

3. Notify employees that they're off-duty during the event and that they're free to attend or not attend.

4. Check your company's insurance coverage and consider obtaining "special events" coverage, if necessary.

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