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Ground Rules

How to sponsor a company sports team without losing your jersey.

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This story appears in the September 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

There's your company name, emblazoned on the back of the bowling shirts your employees proudly wear in their league. You're convinced that sponsoring the team not only gets your name out in the community, but also increases camaraderie and builds company spirit in ways that carry over to the workday. What happens, though, if your office manager drops a bowling ball on her foot? Is she eligible for workers' compensation? What if a fight erupts at a bowling tournament and a spectator gets hurt? Or what if alcohol flows at the after-game party and a drunken employee hits a pedestrian on the way home? Courts deal with these questions more often than you'd expect.

Whether the question concerns workers' comp for employees injured in a company-sponsored game or liability for the injuries of a third party, the basic question is the same: How closely is the company tied to the team or the sporting event? To determine that, the court often asks these questions: Are the games on the employer's premises? Are employees expected to play or asked to build relationships with customers on the playing field? In effect, is playing on the team part of the employees' jobs?

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