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Bad Ideas for Employee Training

Published by on June 1, 2009

A case recently decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit could have come directly from an episode of “The Office.”  It offers one example of what not to do in employee motivational training.  More after the break. In Biro v. Alea London Limited, Barbara Reese and Brian Biro were involved in […]

A case recently decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit could have come directly from an episode of “The Office.”  It offers one example of what not to do in employee motivational training.  More after the break.

In Biro v. Alea London Limited, Barbara Reese and Brian Biro were involved in a training seminar for employees of the company where Reese was employed.  Biro was hired to conduct the training.  He insisted that Reese break a wooden board with her bare hands.  After she failed on two tries, Biro assembled 200 to 300 co-workers to watch her on a third attempt.  In spite of her protests, Reese was strongly encouraged to participate again — Biro led the crowd to chant her name until she agreed.  She injured herself severely.  (The opinion does not indicate whether or not she was successful in breaking the board on her third attempt.)

In the subsequent lawsuit by Reese, Biro admitted liability, but claimed that Alea London Ltd. issued a commercial liability policy that covered Reese’s injury.  Alea outlined two exclusions that limit the general coverage for “bodily injury” caused by an “occurrence.”  The first was an exclusion barring participants from coverage for injuries received while participating in any demonstration, event, or any activity of an athletic or sports nature.  The court found that Reese met the definition of a participant.  Next, they determined that the board-breaking exercise fell under an activity of a sports nature.  After meeting this exclusion, the court found it unnecessary to look into the second exclusion, the professional services exclusion, which applies to injuries due to the rendering of any professional service.  Reese failed to raise an issue before the district court that could have rendered the first exception inapplicable.  The injury must have resulted from an “event designated in the schedule” and no such schedule existed here.  The 4th Circuit affirmed the denial of coverage.

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