Teambuilding – do you really know when you are (not) responsible?

14. 9. 2015

It is common practice that, often right at the end of the summer, many companies organise various, i.e. sport or social, teambuilding events for their employees; unfortunately, getting injured while taking part in them is not as rare as it may seem. Now, considering the aspect of responsibility for the accident: who does it fall on? Was the teambuilding event de facto a business trip? Could an injury incurred in connection with it be thought of as an accident at work, thus leaving the employer accountable? Or not, perhaps? It may come as a surprise for some to learn that neither of these possibilities can be easily ruled out, and the conclusion can only be drawn depending on several factors.

First, let us ask a few questions every responsible employer ought to be asking when organising an event for their employees:

· Does the activity take place during the working hours or not?

· May the employees REALLY decline to participate, or are they, with the exception of serious reasons, bound to take part?

· Is the programme planned by the employer from A to Z, or is there a freedom of choice for the partakers to pick the activities that suit them best?

The definition of "teambuilding" itself holds the key in the first place: The action or process of causing a group of people to work together effectively as a team, especially by means of (sport or social) activities and events designed to increase motivation and promote cooperation (and to improve interpersonal communication) (The Oxford English Dictionary). In this respect, The Supreme Court's interpretation usually regards such an activity as connected with job-related duties if the employees are, in actual fact, obliged to participate, regardless of the fact whether the event takes part within the working hours or not; hence an injury suffered during the event is deemed to be an accident at work and the employer is held responsible for it.

In such a case, a professional indemnity insurance against liability for an employee's injury is in order. However, the case may take years to settle since, naturally, insurance companies, trying to avoid fraudulent accident claims, are often unwilling to recompense providing arguments that the employee who suffered an injury could refuse to participate in the teambuilding event (or its part) if it wasn't directly connected with their work. Because of the goals of a teambuilding (i.e. improvement of interpersonal communication), The Supreme Court's attitude towards ordinary employees and their managers differs, though.

But what is the employer's most adequate defence?

It is best to clearly and explicitly define such events (co-)organised by the employer as an employee benefit, and, in doing so, let the employees decide whether or not they will participate in the event; also, bearing in mind potential hazard, obtaining commercial accident insurance by the employees might be recommended. The reason is that The Supreme Court makes difference between leisure, holiday-like or, as the case may be, performance reward activities, and activities organised to improve the relationships within the team by means of informal get-togethers. While the employer can't be held accountable for a potential employee's accident in the first case, they will hardly evade responsibility in the latter, regardless of the fact whether or not the event takes place outside working hours.

Since, as can be seen, there are many factors to be taken into account (with, primarily, the questions listed above to be answered), we strongly recommend seeking professional advice on appropriate measures even before an event is announced to the employees.

Šárka Gregorová

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