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Workplace team sports – Not just a game

It is often stated that a fit and healthy workforce is a more productive workforce. Not surprisingly then, many employers encourage their employees to be more active and fit. In some cases this may include the sponsorship of a company sports team.

The role of sports in the workplace will vary from workplace to workplace. Some workplaces will have little role for sports other than water-cooler talk of the game the night before or a workplace pool for March Madness. Some workplaces will support community sports teams through financial sponsorship as part of the marketing strategy or community support. Some workplaces, on the other hand, use sports more actively to promote employee fitness and recreation and to foster teamwork, co-operation, communication and idea sharing between departments, and community networking.

Whichever level of participation in sports programs an employer has, if any, there are responsibilities, risks and potential liabilities that employers should be aware of and prepare for through well-communicated policy covering the following considerations:

  • There are inherent risks associated with physical activity. Employers should be aware of how company-sponsored or supported sporting activity may or may not be covered by workers’ compensation coverage in their jurisdiction. If a sporting event is employer-sponsored, if employees are asked to participate by the employer (even if the event is held after hours) or if it is presumed that such participation is inherent in an employee’s job duties, if the event takes place on company property, or if the employer receives some promotional benefits from the event, injuries occurring during the event may be compensable under workers compensation plans. If not covered, employers could face legal claims for liability.
  • In addition to workers’ compensation considerations, employers also risk the loss of employee productivity to injury-related absence or accommodations.
  • Employers should be aware of the risks associated with liabilities to third parties, should another participant or bystander be injured by an employee participant or at the event, or if property damage should occur.
  • Employers may want to make it clear that any employer-sponsored team or event is subject to its conduct, behaviour, alcohol and anti-bullying policies.
  • Employers must ensure that employee participation be voluntary and not affect an employee’s evaluation, especially in consideration of employees who may have disabilities.
  • In order to be more inclusive, employers should find other ways to include employees who don’t or can’t actively participate in a sporting team or event.
  • Employers should be clear regarding its tolerance for wagering on the game. Wagering leads not only to financial loss by some employees for the financial gain of other employees, but may also disrupt employee morale and working relationships.

And, employers should remember, that despite the above advice – keep it fun!

Good luck.

Look for a Sports Teams Sample Policy in future updates of Human Resources PolicyPro.

Michele Glassford

President and Managing Editor at DRH and Lawyer at MacKinnon Law Associates
Michele Glassford, is a lawyer, researcher and policy analyst with a background in employment and labour law.In addition to a part-time law practice in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Michele has worked in the field of labour adjustment for the Health Sector Training and Adjustment Program and has been a Researcher for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Michele also holds the position of President and Managing Editor at D.R. Hancocks & Associates Inc., author of the Human Resources PolicyPros. Read more
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