Team building, and the labour law issues and problems bound up with it, do not come before the Czech courts on a regular basis. The concept of team building itself has never actually been legally defined, and its meaning was interpreted by the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic only in 2009.
According to case law, team building is
"an intensive and intentional (targeted) building-up and development of the working potential of work teams, with emphasis placed especially on increasing motivation and the deepening of mutual trust, improvement of performance and communication among staff members, the improvement of team creativity, etc.".
The deciding factor, however, is not the formal designation or labelling of any given employee program or exercise as "team building" or similar (either in the title or description of the program or exercise), but rather the actual content of the activities planned by the employer.
With the increase of these sorts of activities in the past decade, the issue of team building activities beginning to slowly emerge in the case law of the Supreme Court, particularly with regard to the assessment of injury to employees during team building exercises as being workplace accidents.
In its latest decision on the issue, the Supreme Court delivered the following opinion:
"If an employee's participation in a team building event is mandatory and he suffers an injury in the course of it, it constitutes a work accident and the employer is responsible for the damage to the injured employee caused by said accident at the time of the mandatory participation in a tournament held by the employer during working hours, since such an activity is related to the work activities of the injured employee."
The parties to this particular dispute were the employer and their insurer, which suggests a growing willingness on the part of employers to consider employee participation in team building activities to be inextricably connected with their work. In contrast, insurance companies have traditionally opposed and refused to assess such injuries at such events as being work-related.
In this instance, the circumstances before the Court were that the Vice-Dean of a university's business faculty had suffered an injury while participating in a combined athletic events tournament organised by the Dean's office and held during working hours.
The lower courts held that this constituted a work accident because it occurred in connection with the performance of working tasks. This was because the court held that the purpose of the tournament was to improve communication and cooperation among employees through joint sporting activities and also, therefore, the strengthening of the interpersonal relations between staff.
The defendant objected that employees who did not want to participate in the tournament as active athletes or spectators were allowed to simply continue working at their workplaces. The defendant also contended that sporting activities were not related to performing work tasks for the Dean of a faculty as part of an employee's role, and that such an employee would not be obligated to obey an instruction to take part in a tournament. This objection, however, was not accepted by the court.
We can therefore conclude that a duty to participate in team building events or, at least, in particular activities can be considered essential. This category also includes events which are nominally optional, but in which the attendance of employees is expected or even enforced, whether directly or indirectly. If an employee participates in a program which has more than one purpose (including team building), the potential injury in this activity may be considered to be a workplace accident. Even if participation is labelled as voluntary, this does not automatically mean that it is possible to exclude it as being a workplace accident. In such cases, it is necessary to examine the content and purpose of the activity, e.g. whether it involves training intended to enhance the employee's qualifications or team communication, even if this is in a peripheral and tangential manner.