During the holiday season, the question arises whether an employer that is hosting holiday parties may seek waivers from its employees for benefits and compensation rights under the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Law for any injuries occurring during that party. Employers should not rely solely upon such waivers to avoid liability at holiday parties.

The best practice is to make sure that the employees have a safe, fun time and that if alcohol is being served, the employer closely monitor the employees and make sure that (1) no one becomes impaired; and (2) no one drives under the influence of alcohol.

The Ohio Revised Code provides that an “employee may waive his or her rights to compensation or benefits for injury or disability incurred in voluntary participation of an employer-sponsored recreation or fitness activity if the employee signs a waiver of the employee’s right to compensation or benefits under this chapter prior to engaging in the recreation or fitness activity.” The purpose of that statute is to protect employers from workers’ compensation claims when they sponsored such events as summer picnics, sporting events or on-site physical fitness facilities.

While the courts give us little guidance as to whether such a waiver would protect an employer in the event that an employee was injured while driving home from the annual holiday party, it is prudent to assume that outside the workers’ compensation system, an employer could be held liable for serving alcohol in a social setting when the alcohol gave rise to an automobile accident injuring the employee or a third party.

An employer should not rely solely on the waiver described in the workers’ compensation statute to insulate itself from potential workers’ compensation liability or civil liability in the setting of a holiday party where alcohol is served—but rather to take proactive steps to guard against injuries and protect all attendees.