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Employee Hurt or Harassed at Company Picnic: Are You Liable?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 20, 2015 11:55 AM

Summer is coming. Your business had a good year. You want to reward your team with a company picnic!

However, be careful. Company picnics and events can be great ways to build rapport and reward your employees. But, depending on how you plan your event, you could be exposing yourself to a host of liability issues.

Workers' Comp

Workers' compensation covers employees injuries caused by employees duties or the conditions at work. Did you know that, in some states, workers' compensation can also cover injuries incurred at company sponsored events outside of work?

A social event may be within the course of employment and covered under workers' compensation if:

  • Employees are expressly or impliedly required to attend;
  • The employer receives a direct benefit from employee participation; or
  • The event is held during work hours on company premises.

Social Host Liability

What's a party without some alcohol? Just make sure that your employees don't drink too much. If your state has social host liability laws, you may be held responsible if your employees hurt themselves after drinking too much.

Harassment and Discrimination

If a company party is deemed to be "within the course and scope of employment," you may be liable for loose lips and lowered inhibitions. If an employee makes harassing or sexually inappropriate comments at a company party, you may be liable for sexual harassment.

You may also be liable for discrimination if your event is only open to certain people, such as men only, and not to the whole company or division.

Tips to Avoid Liability

Here are some tips to keep your company picnic fun and liability free:

  1. Clearly explain that participation is voluntary.
  2. Do not conduct any business at company parties.
  3. Limit the amount of alcohol served with drink tickets or a no-host cash bar.
  4. Hold the party off company premises.
  5. Remind employees about the company's policy against harassment and discrimination.
  6. Do not exclude any employees because of race, national origin, gender, religion, age, or disability.

Don't let this article discourage you from throwing the annual company picnic. Just make sure you protect yourself against liability. If you need help doing just that, talk to an employment attorney in your area.

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