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Employer sponsored sports teams or events: team building or business risk?

There are many advantages to sponsoring an employee sports team or event, such as camaraderie, team building, exercise and just plain fun. However, what happens if an employee strains his back while pitching for your softball team or a fight breaks out and a third party is injured? It’s important for employers to understand the risks, including liability for a Workers’ Comp claim and liability for injuries of a third party caused by an employee.
While laws vary by state, the relationship of the company to the activity plays a key role in assessing liability. Some common guiding principles include:

Whether or not an injury during an event is work-related is not always clear-cut. Two cases illustrate this point:

In Iowa, an employee who injured his back bowling at a "Family Fun Fest" sponsored by his employer was compensated to the tune of $100,000 because the employer urged participation: "Don't make us cancel this event from lack of interest/attendance."

In contrast, in New Hampshire an employee who injured his back bowling in a company-sponsored league failed to prove that his injury arose from, or was in the course of his employment, because at the time he wasn’t on company property, was not engaged in any activities related to his job, and was not required to participate. It also was not proven that the employer received a benefit from his participation in the league.

Here are a few guidelines to help minimize the risks and liabilities: