It is important not to require employee attendance at holiday parties and that pressure to attend is properly managed. Mandatory attendance at company-sponsored functions, like holiday parties, can result in workers’ compensation claims if an attending employee is injured. It can also mean that the employee is entitled to be compensated for his or her time spent at the event pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In Ohio, employees injured while engaged in an employer-sponsored recreational or fitness activity are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits unless the employee signed a waiver prior to participating in the activity. Hence, it is critical employers request employees execute a waiver before an activity occurs. The BWC provides a sample waiver on its website.

For the waiver to be valid, the following requirements must be met:

  • Participation in the activity must be voluntary;
  • The waiver must specifically list all of the employer-sponsored activities for which the employee wishes to waive workers’ compensation coverage;
  • The waiver must be signed by the employee PRIOR to the date of injury; and,
  • The employer must maintain the original executed waiver and provide a copy to the employee.

Should an employee be injured, the employer should submit a copy of the waiver to the BWC as a basis for contesting a claim. Keep in mind the waiver is valid for only two calendar years.

In determining whether an activity is considered to be an employer-sponsored activity, courts have typically evaluated the following factors:

  • Whether the employer paid for or organized the activity;
  • Whether attendance was limited to employees;
  • Whether the employer purchased uniforms or equipment;
  • Whether the activity occurred on the employer’s premises;
  • Whether the employer paid an entrance or participation fee; and,
  • Whether the activity took place during normal work hours.

To help make your company holiday event festive while reducing your liability, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Waivers: Employers who wish to obtain waivers from their employees for employer-sponsored recreational activities must obtain them prior to the employees’ participation. Because there are often strategic decisions to make about whether to obtain such waivers that depend on the nature of the activity at issue, employers are encouraged to contact their legal counsel before deciding whether to seek them from employees.
  • Obtain a signed valid waiver from all employees participating before an activity takes place: Whether the activity is a company picnic, a bowling league, a trip to an amusement park or any other recreational or fitness activity, request employees fully execute a waiver before the event takes place.
  • Make attendance optional: Make it clear to employees that attendance at a company-sponsored event is purely optional, not mandatory. This also means keep the event social, not work-related. Keep work-related events, such as handing out bonuses or safety awards, for another day.
  • Pony up the pay: If attendance is required or the event is during normal working hours, compensate your employees, including overtime pay if their hours for the week exceed 40 hours.