Written by Heather Mills and Georgia Roberts and

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Winter is upon us and the Christmas holidays are in sight. Employees could be off skiing, snowboarding, or riding round the Caribbean on a jet ski.

So far, so good and beneficial to health and well-being generally, but, what if an employee injures themselves during an extreme activity whilst outside of work? In some circumstances, an injury could lead to significant time off work or an ongoing disability. Many employees participate in sports such as skiing, quad biking, rugby, horse riding and climbing, which can result in accidents. Because of this, is it worth considering what the implications are for employers when their employees need time off because of the injuries that they have sustained and protecting against them?

It is difficult for employers to walk the fine line between employee well-being and a healthy life style and protecting the business. What an employee does in their spare time is up to them surely? Employers should not be discouraging their staff from doing things that they enjoy, as this will undoubtedly lead to job dissatisfaction and reduced productivity in the workplace.

However, if an employee is off sick as a result of an extreme sport, this will have a direct impact on the employer. There may be a requirement to pay occupational sick pay, source and pay for temporary cover or increase other employees’ workloads, who need to pick up the slack. Because of these implications, should employers be able to protect themselves against the possible detriments that can arise when employees are off for self- inflicted injuries, but not paying sick pay or terminating more rapidly?

It may be possible to minimise the impact by adding a clause into employment contracts, stating that the employer shall not be liable to pay company sick pay for absences resulting from extreme sporting injuries and creating a list of “extreme sports”, to avoid disputes later on. However, it is easy to see how an employee may feel aggrieved that colleagues who take regular time off for minor ailments or because they lead an unhealthy or sedentary lifestyle would feel very aggrieved that they do not get sick pay whilst their “unhealthy” colleagues do. Not good for employee relations perhaps?

In addition, removing such employees hastily may fall foul of the Equality Act 2010 if their injuries fall within the definition of a disability, with the requirements on the company to make reasonable adjustments before considering termination. The cause of such injury would be irrelevant.

So whilst there may be a natural instinct for HR to recommend that the business protects itself against the impact that can result from employees who decide to throw themselves at high speed down mountains on two planks of wood, it may ultimately cause the business more long-term damage in loss of good-will and “feel-good” factor to distinguish between the sedentary employee and those that willingly engage in high risk, extreme activities, which keep them generally fighting fit!

19th November 2018