A director of a library resources council asks…
I know we have policy and procedures in place for our staff travel, but what if we were to reimburse or give grants for personal auto travel to members.
Example: could we offer a monetary amount for our members to travel to Albany for NYLA Legislative Day? Would our [library]council be liable if the person gets in an accident?
We also offer Professional Development grants. If travel is included in the grant we award are we liable for supporting that trip if the person is in an accident or injured?
This is the right question at the right time. As we wrap up 2022, remote work, work travel, work-from-home, work abroad...all these are evolving in a tangle of legal considerations.
Whenever an employer adopts policies or practices that can impact the physical situation of an employee, questions about liability must be addressed. The same is true for an organization that offers grants.
Liability is only one consideration among many, however. When the terms for compensation or funding are being set, equally important are: support for institutional mission, individual well-being, and meaningful assessment of how funds are spent.
Fortunately, consideration of liability can be harmonized with these other priorities, by considering the purpose of the funding, and the way it is awarded.
Here are some examples of this balance, based on the member's scenarios:
Scenario 1 (regarding travel to Albany): "To promote member and professional participation in NYLA Legislative Day, member organizations can apply for travel grants up to [AMOUNT]. Member organizations who apply must submit a copy of their lobbying policy to demonstrate they are set up to properly receive, administer, and report lobbying-related funds."
Scenario 2 (regarding professional development): "To promote professional capacity-building at member organizations, member organizations can apply for professional development grants of up to [AMOUNT]. Recipient members will be required to send a short report describing the use of funds so professional capacity-building can be assessed."
How does this limit liability? In both of the above examples, the grant recipient is the member organization, not the acting/receiving individual. This would be emphasized further in the grant application and award conditions, which would require the funds be spent in a certain way (emphasizing mission and assessment), but would rely on the member-recipient to administer the funds to their employee, as a term of employment.
This separation reduces the chance for liability to be directed at the grant funder, while the chance for liability between the employee and the employer remains the same (unless the grant is conditioning funding on something inherently dangerous, like sky-diving into Albany, or professional development as an underwater welder).
On the flip side of this arrangement is the fact that any time an employee is travelling or engaging in any activity for business--whether the trip is specially funded by a grant, or to promote the employee's individual professional development--the trip or activity may result in an injury that could result in worker's compensation claim.
This is true whether the employee is at the employer's office, a home office, an off-site work location, or travelling for business, and is true whether or not the activity is grant-funded, or funded out of general operating expenses.
Such injury, when incurred by an employee, should be reported promptly to the employer, so the employer can file the appropriate claim for workers' compensation insurance. If the incident involved injury to another, or injury to property or assets, the matter might involve other types of insurance.
Of course, there are some professional development opportunities and grants that may go straight from a grant-giving organization to an individual, rather than to that individual's employer. When that is the case, the application materials and recipient award notice (which should double as a "terms of acceptance" document) must make it clear that the funded tasks are not being performed by the recipient as an employee, agent, or contractor of the donor. That is another task for a lawyer.
Thank you for a nuanced question!
 This is why grant application and award notices should be reviewed by a lawyer when newly issued or revised.
 Please bear in mind, this is the default condition, and many things could happen to change it (including the contract between the grantee and grantor). The bottom line: if an employee is injured, prompt reporting is essential to ensure they receive the protection and coverage they may be entitled to.
 Examples include but aren't limited to: general liability insurance, commercial liability insurance, professional liability insurance, automobile insurance, marine insurance (if the incident happened on a boat).
Tags: Employee Rights, Liability, Policy