Inspired by The Hunger Games trilogy, some employers may feel the urge to pile the employees onto a bus, head off site, and pit coworker against coworker in some form of physical competition under the guise of “team building.” Savvy employers are always looking for new and better ways to motivate the troops, solidify relationships, and build some esprit de corps. What better way than to take the workforce on a high-action field trip?
But they better be mindful of employment laws, particularly OSHA regulations, state tort law, and state workers’ compensation laws. In February 2009 OSHA published a letter of interpretation stating that employee injuries suffered at off-site teambuilding events are recordable in OSHA logs. The letter was requested after an employee was injured in a go-kart accident during an office retreat.
In 2012 the Supreme Court of Idaho held that an employee who was severely injured when he fell off a climbing wall at his employer’s off-site teambuilding event could not maintain a negligence action against the employer. The court relied heavily on a hold harmless agreement the employee signed before the activity.
In 2010 an Ohio appellate court ruled that an employee injured during a three-mile canoe trip was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The employee wasn’t actually injured while canoeing. Instead he was injured during a bout of horseplay when a few coworkers tried to pull him off an embankment and into the river. The court rejected the employer’s contention that the injury wasn’t work-related due to the unauthorized horseplay.
So before your enterprising HR department reaps the accounting department to go catch fire in Panem, keep these cases in mind. The more control the employer wields over the activity and the more the activity is required, the more exposed the employer could be to workers’ compensation and other liability.