Every year at this time, companies across the country are hosting holiday parties, lunches and other gatherings. These events are usually not directly related to work, and are intended to simply give the team a break, boost morale or celebrate a good year and thank all for a job well done.
But of course, injuries can occur at any time. Holiday parties may in some cases result in an increased risk of injury if alcohol is served or if there is a need to drive off site to the event.
Whether injuries stemming from these incidents will be compensable is a difficult question, and the answer is going to rely on a host of factors, including:
- Whether the company required or expected workers to attend
- Employees were paid to participate
- The incident occurred on company property and the property contained an unsafe condition the employer failed to timely correct
- The employer directly or impliedly endorsed the event and/or derives a benefit from it
Our Charlotte work injury attorneys recognize the primary question the North Carolina Industrial Commission and the courts are going to ask is whether the company function rises the level of “performing duties of employment” or an “act of employment.”
Generally speaking, a function your employer does not require you to attend is not going to be considered a work-related. It may be a different story if your attendance is compelled. For example, if you are only able to receive employment awards, a yearly bonus or some other benefit by attending the party, it could elevate your claim.
Understand, however, it may be an uphill battle. Consider the case of Graven v. N.C. Dept. of Public Safety before the North Carolina Court of Appeals several months ago. We reported on it here when the ruling was first issued.
Essentially, two state workers were seriously injured in a crash when returning to work from a work-related holiday luncheon organized by their supervisors. They were in a state-owned vehicle at the time of the crash.
After numerous hearings and appeals, the appellate court ruled the injuries did not occur within the course of their employment because, firstly, the off-site restaurant lunch was not a mandatory work function, even though supervisors encouraged attendance. No awards or formal speeches were given, and workers paid for their own meals.
Secondly, the vehicle the pair were driving was not authorized for such use.
Finally, claim was denied based on the “coming and going” rule. Yes, the pair were headed back to work, but the law says if injuries are incurred when a worker is traveling to or from his place of employment, those injuries usually aren’t compensable.
Exceptions are made sometimes when the employer furnishes the vehicles as a means of incident of the employment contract or when the injuries are sustained by a worker while on property owned or controlled by employer. In these specific circumstances, however, the appellate court ruled exceptions did not apply.
There are cases in which holiday party injuries can be considered work-related, but each incident needs to be carefully weighed by an experienced attorney.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Graven v. N.C. Dept. of Public Safety, July 29, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals
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