Several employees asked you about setting up a basketball hoop in an unused corner of your company's parking lot. Should you be concerned about potential liability?

Employers should be aware of the risks but remain open to the arrangement, which may be of sufficient health and morale benefit to justify accommodating your employees' request. Connecticut workers' compensation law specifically excludes injuries resulting from an employee's "voluntary participation in any social or recreational activities, including, but not limited to, athletic events, parties, and picnics, whether or not the employer pays some or all of the cost of such activity."

The outcomes of legal disputes in this context, however, have been highly fact-dependent, hinging on the purpose of the employee's participation in the activity rather than on whether the employer approved or acquiesced to it.

For example, it may be more likely that workers' comp insurance would cover an injury where the employee's participation in the activity takes place on the clock, is promoted as an element of a company wellness program, or is in response to supervisory coercion to "play ball" with an implied benefit to be delivered on the job.

So it is unlikely that an employee injury would be covered under workers' comp if it results from an activity that the employee pursues simply for personal relaxation or enjoyment. But keep in mind that an injury might still lead to a personal injury negligence claim.

In any event, if you decide to accommodate your employees' request, consider taking the following steps:

  • Initially and periodically inspect the area where the basketball hoop will be located and remove any hazards.
  • Require that any equipment obtained is of sufficient quality so as not to create a hazard.
  • Consider asking participants to sign a waiver as a condition of participation. It won't protect you against an injury deemed to be covered under workers' compensation, but it may be of some value in the event of a negligence claim.
  • Review the matter with your insurance and legal advisors for more guidance.