Flowers are in full bloom, the wind is at your back, and the sky is blue enough to make poets weep at the beauty of it all. It's summer, the season of endless outdoor activities, and it's got you thinking maybe you should treat your employees to some hard-earned fun.
But as this FindLaw article adeptly points out, company outings aren't without their risks. In fact, summertime poses unique exposures when it comes to your employees' safety and your liability. Let's explore some warm weather risks and possible ways to mitigate them so you can enjoy your time in the sun (or at the bar – we're not here to judge).
1. The company goes on an outing.
Whether it's a picnic or a kick ball game (not recommended), company activities can be good team-building opportunities. But once you move your staff out into the big, scary world, you simply have less control over the environment, which increases the chance that someone could get hurt.
Here's the kicker: if you require employees to participate at the company-sponsored event, you can be liable for any employee injuries or accidents that occur. You don't even have to explicitly state that attendance is required for this to be the case.
To warrant a claim on your Workers' Compensation Insurance policy, an employee just needs to show…
- They were injured at a company event.
- The event was held during work hours on your business premises.
- You received a benefit from employee participation.
The more claims on your policy, the higher your premiums may be.
Say, for example, you do host that business picnic. Your employees sit around the picnic table, passing sandwiches and fruit in the slight shade of an old oak tree. That's when your copywriter reaches for a can of soda, and a bumble bee flies under her arm. When she brings her arm back to her side, the bee panics and stings her with all its might. Turns out the writer never knew she was allergic to bees, so no one has an EpiPen handy. She is rushed to the hospital, and those medical bills are going to be on your company's dime.
To avoid this potential crisis, bring a first aid kit to company events. Ask employees about notable allergies beforehand so you can appropriately prepare for possible risks. Be sure to carry Workers' Comp Insurance to cover employee medical expenses if accidents do happen.
2. The drinks are flowing like honey.
Fact: a piña colada in the height of summer's lambasting heat is as close to ambrosia as it gets. But when you arrange a post-work happy hour (or one that happens during normal work hours), you can be held liable for any alcohol-related accidents your intoxicated employees have.
Most states have liquor liability laws, which allow injured third parties to sue the person or entity that provided alcohol to the guests that caused them harm. Some state laws may allow your employees to hold you liable if they injure themselves. So if, for example, your SEO guru had a few too many at the company happy hour and starts a fight with another employee, your business could be sued over the resulting damage.
Liquor Liability Insurance may address these kinds of claims, but read your policy carefully so you know what situations it will and won't apply to. To avoid these claims altogether, encourage employees to drink responsibly and never let employees drive home drunk.
3. Employees suffer harassment or discriminatory exclusion.
Say you host a company party, and as the booze flows, inhibitions go out the window. These situations can bring out the worst in people, and some employees may start to act like total letches. So long as the event falls within the course and scope of employment, you may be liable if an employee sexually harasses another employee.
If you host a company "boys' night out," that could lead to trouble, too. Your female employees could claim they are being discriminated against and sue you over it.
For both these instances, Employment Practices Liability Insurance may help pay for legal expenses when your business is accused of sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of gender (or age, race, religion, etc.). However, the goal is to avoid such a lawsuit in the first place. To do that, be inclusive in all your business activities. If someone reports they are being harassed, immediately intervene and ensure the harasser is appropriately disciplined or fired if the problem persists.
4. Employees help clean up the shop after a major storm.
If your business is hit by a severe summer storm, you may be tempted to ask your employees to help you clean up the downed trees outside or the debris inside. However, that task is best left to the professionals. Your employees could easily cut themselves if they handle saws or broken glass, and your Workers' Comp policy may have to bear those costs.
5. Things heat up.
Trying to cut costs by keeping the AC in your building MIA? You could have a Workers' Comp claim on your hands.
If your premises are too hot or if employees aren't given enough time to adequately cool down and rest after working outside, they could suffer from heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and dehydration. Though your Workers' Comp policy may address the associated medical expenses, you should try to avoid these claims if you want to keep your premiums affordable and keep your employees happy.
If your business revolves around outdoor work (e.g., lawn care or construction), make sure your employees take adequate (air conditioned!) breaks throughout the workday and that water is readily available. Teach your employees about the dangers of prolonged heat and sun exposure and train them on how to recognize warning signs of heat stroke and dehydration. See WebMD's guide and the Mayo Clinic's guide for more details.