An employer’s arrangement for or involvement in its employee’s recreational activity can create worker’s compensation liability. There is nothing wrong with employees engaging in activity outside of the workplace and work time. But, even incidental employer participation in such activity can be deemed to have created an employment related risk in the course of the employment.
The provision of prizes or a contribution for uniforms could lead to the conclusion that the employer was supportive of the activity in question. An employer’s support of an activity to the end that its employees have fun may create the inference that the employer intended to promote esprit de corps and good will. A supervisor’s encouragement of employee participation in the activity may imply that it is a requirement of the employment. Any benefit (real or perceived) to the employer could be enough to make the recreational activity incidental to the employment.
When it comes to recreational activity, an employer needs to be “all in” or not at all involved. There is likely no safe halfway approach to employer participation. Being “all in” allows the employer an opportunity to provide risk management input which might otherwise be lacking and to encourage the intended benefit. Even a half-hearted commitment of minor resources to the recreational activity creates an argument that the employer must have perceived some incidental benefit which justified the commitment; if there is no benefit, why would it participate!
Some employers have published notices which state that the recreational activity is not work related or have required that the involved employees sign a waiver of any claim for compensation benefits. But, if the evidence establishes employer participation or benefits sufficient to conclude that the activity was incidental to the employment, then such notices or waivers will not prevent compensability. This is because IC 22-3- 2-15 (a) states: “No contract, agreement (written or implied), rule, or other device shall, in any manner, operate to relieve any employer in whole or in part of any obligation created by [the worker’s compensation act].