Employers who hold offsite recreational retreats for their workers, particularly retreats involving alcohol, need to be very vigilant about safety or they might end up paying more than they planned.
For example, in a Missouri case the owner of a fiberoptic cable company held a retreat for workers at a Lake of the Ozarks resort, where he rented a pontoon boat for employees to enjoy.
The boss spent part of the day on the lake with his workforce before returning to the resort, but allowed a group of employees take the boat back out on the lake without him. The fun continued, and so, apparently, did the drinking.
A no-wake zone surrounded the resort. When the boat returned to the resort, it was going full-speed as it hit the no-wake zone. The operator, who allegedly had been drinking, suddenly cut back the throttle, causing it to slow quickly. A worker who was standing at the front of the boat in front of the safety railing lost his balance when the boat lurched and fell overboard.
When the worker hit the water, the boat’s propeller cut his arm and lacerated a nerve. It took emergency surgery to save his arm.
The worker took his employer to court, arguing that he had negligently entrusted the boat to an intoxicated person. The employer claimed the accident was the worker’s fault, because he was intoxicated and was not standing in a safe place.
Meanwhile, the employer’s liability insurer tried to deny coverage, claiming this was a worker’s compensation case, although the employee argued that the retreat was a voluntary activity and thus the injury was not work-related.
Ultimately, the case settled for a very substantial sum, suggesting the employer was nervous about what might happen if it went to trial.
While this won’t be the outcome for every injury that happens in a work-related recreational setting, if you are planning a retreat for your employees meet with an attorney to review your liability coverage and the activities you plan to offer.