Lennon v. N.C. Judicial Dept. – Work Holiday Party Injuries

‘Tis the season for work holiday parties. But what happens when the festivities turn perilous – or fatal? The question of whether such injuries are covered under workers’ compensation laws will depend on a host of different factors. holiday party

Chiefly, the issue will be whether the employee was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the incident in question. Events that are obligatory or paid or that in some way further the mission of the company will likely be considered to have occurred in the course and scope of employment.

In the recent case of Lennon v. N.C. Judicial Department, the plaintiff asserted before the North Carolina Court of Appeal that her injury at a work holiday party qualified her for workers’ compensation benefits. The defendant company argued the injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment.

According to court records, the plaintiff worked as a deputy clerk at the local county clerk of courts. Her division was in charge of planning the annual office holiday party. During her normal working hours, the plaintiff helped to design invites and help with securing catering and planning. She also volunteered to serve as the “emcee” for the event. All workers were invited, but even if they didn’t come, they were expected to pitch in $13 to help with the clean-up of the after-party.

A group of local, private attorneys pitched in by covering the cost of food and the venue.

On the night of the party, as the plaintiff was walking into the country club where the party was being held, she tripped and fell, breaking her wrist and tailbone and injuring her shoulder.

The plaintiff received short-term disability benefits after the accident. She then filed a claim with the defendant employer, asking for compensation for days missed from work, permanent partial disability, and medical expenses.

The defendant’s insurance carrier denied the claim, and the plaintiff requested a hearing. There, the deputy commissioner sided with the defendant, finding the accident did not occur in the course and scope of employment.

The plaintiff timely appealed to the full commission, which also affirmed.

In order to be considered “in the course and scope of employment,” an act must be a natural or probable consequence or incident of the employment and a natural result of the risks, such that there is a causal relationship between the accident resulting in the injury and the performance of some service of employment.

In North Carolina, it’s generally pretty well established that injuries that occur during social or recreational activities related to employment may fall within the purview of the workers’ compensation laws, if one of the following is true:

  • It occurs on the premises during a lunch or regular recreation period as a regular incident of employment;
  • The employer expressly or impliedly requires participation in the activity, making the activity occurring within the scope of employment; or
  • The employer derives substantial value or a direct benefit from the activity, beyond the intangible benefit of employee morale or health common to all sorts of recreation and social activity.

The appellate court has additionally determined a series of questions for determining whether these factors apply. These include whether the employer sponsored the activity, to what extent participation was mandatory or expected, whether there was some degree of encouragement to attend, and whether employees regarded it as a right or entitlement or simply as a benefit.

In this case, weighing these factors, the appeals court held the commission made the right decision.

Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Lennon v. N.C. Judicial Department, Dec. 6, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Worker Misclassification Still Problematic in North Carolina, Nov. 21, 2016, Winston-Salem Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

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