Incentive trips, conferences and other types of employee travel are common ways for employers to train, reward and motivate their best employees and managers. But off-site work events can also be a legal land mine. From injuries to assaults to alcohol-related incidents, your small business needs workers’ comp coverage to be prepared for the various issues that can surface on work-sponsored trips—and potentially lead to costly lawsuits.
Here are some of the most common major problems that spring up during employee trips and conferences, along with real-life situations:
In 2006, Danny Douglas, a computer support analyst for Ad Astra in Overland Park, Kansas, attended a company-sponsored “team-building” event at an indoor go-cart racing facility. Employees were given a brief pep talk about an upcoming product and were then divided into teams and told they could win prizes by going the fastest. While rounding a curve at 25 miles per hour, Douglas was thrown from his go-cart and landed on his side and suffered a fractured rib and lung injury that required immediate surgery.
His company initially refused to pay workers compensation because it claimed the activity was voluntary; a judge later ruled that the company must pay workers’ comp, according to SafetyNewsAlert.com. The case eventually reached the Kansas Supreme Court, which agreed that it appeared likely that Douglas was required to either be working or at the go-cart facility, but said the state’s worker compensation board needed to reevaluate the case using a different test.
A former Microsoft manager in the United Kingdom, Simon Negus, was terminated for “dishonesty” after he was allegedly seen kissing another Microsoft employee at an Atlanta conference in 2009. The company dismissed Negus the following September and sued him for $126,000—part of his 2008 signing bonus—and for another part of his holiday pay, according to Bloomberg. Negus later counter-sued. In another case of alleged misconduct, at least one software developer was laid off from his employer in 2013 after a tech blogger overheard him and another developer making jokes sexual in nature about “dongles” at PyCon, a Python developer conference in Santa Clara, California, according to ArsTechnica.com.
Illness and food poisoning.
Legionnaire’s disease is perhaps the most infamous case of a major illness outbreak during a convention (of the American Legion in 1976). But employees getting sick during a work-related event is not so unusual, really. There’s always the risk that employees they will get food poisoning or contract a contagious illness when traveling for work. Earlier this year, in fact, more than 100 attendees of—ironically—a food-safety summit in Baltimore, Maryland apparently got sick after one of the meals, according to NBC News. About 12 hours after the meal, many guests reported nausea, diarrhea and other symptoms often associated with food-borne illnesses. No attendees were hospitalized and food safety inspectors could not immediately track down the cause of the illness.
When outside the office—even when technically on the clock—sometimes employees can get in trouble. A judge in Guadalupe County, Texas, Mike Wiggins, was arrested on drug possession when attending a conference in 2012. A worker at the hotel where the conference was taking place smelled marijuana during the conference and traced it back to Wiggins’ room, according to KWTX.com.
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