Bah humbug! Don’t invite injuries to your holiday party

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Bricker & Eckler LLP

It’s that time of year again when employers start planning year-end holiday parties. While most parties go off without a hitch, occasionally, unfortunate accidents do happen. What happens when an employee is injured at a holiday work party? Does Ohio workers’ compensation cover such an event?

Whether an injury that occurs at a holiday party is compensable depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • Whether the employer expected or required employees to participate.
  • The company’s level of sponsorship.
  • If awards or bonuses were announced or given.
  • If the accident occurred on company property. If so, did the accident result from an unsafe condition that the employer should have fixed?
  • How much benefit the company receives as a result of the activity.
  • When the activity occurred in relation to work hours.

Expected attendance by employees is one of the most critical components when courts decide whether a work event qualifies. Employers should advise employees in advance of the party that attendance at the event is voluntary and not considered within the scope of their employment.

Additionally, the level of company involvement and sponsorship also affects workers’ compensation eligibility. If the employer covered all costs, or if senior staff distributed awards at the event, the employee may be able to make the case that the company sponsored the event. This level of sponsorship can make a workers’ compensation case more valid.

So, what can you do to help your employees safely enjoy the “spirit of the season?”

Here are a few tips to show your employees you appreciate all of their hard work while keeping in the spirit of the season:

Offer alternative transportation like taxi-cabs or ride-hailing companies. Encourage your employees to use Uber or Lyft by having someone available at the exit with the app in hand and letting them know the tab is on you tonight. Or, you can circulate a designated driver list to arrange carpooling. 

Serve cheese to go with that wine.  Empty stomachs and alcohol do not mix. Be sure to include snacks and appetizers, or a full meal, for your employees.

Have plenty of alcohol-free choices for designated drivers. Consider “mocktails” so they don’t feel left out of the fun. 

Even for a fun event like a holiday party, don't let your guard down about safety hazards to your employees. It would be unfortunate if something intended to be enjoyable ended in someone getting hurt.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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