Unless you’re a real scrooge, you probably enjoy a good work event. Whether it’s a picnic, kickball game, charity event, or holiday party, it’ an excuse to get out of the office for a while. It’s also a chance to get to know your co-workers in a more relaxed environment. However, when the party goes south and an employee gets injured, who pays?
Many are quick to assume the employer. The thought process is that the injury happened at a work-related or sponsored event, therefore the injury becomes a workers’ compensation case. Whether injuries are covered by workers’ compensation benefits depends on whether the injury arose “out of and in the course of the employment”.
This elusive phrase is heard over and over again in workers’ compensation law. At the end of the day, determining who pays for an injury sustained at a work event relies heavily on the facts of the case. To try and provide a better understanding, let’s explore some court cases.
Company Picnics and Sports Events
In 2014 a South Carolina man was injured at a company kickball game. The claimant, Whigham, attended bi-monthly meetings with management to discuss, among other things, the importance of team-building events. Whigham proposed the idea of a kickball game and management approved. The company funded the event and Whigham encouraged other employees to attend, however it was not mandatory.
Overruling the Commissioner and Court of Appeals, both of which had denied benefits, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of Whigham, stating,
“In finding a recreational or social activity is within the course of employment, this Court considers whether the activity falls within one of the following factors established by Professor Arthur Larson:
- It occurs on the premises during a lunch or recreational period as a regular incident of the employment’ or
- The employer, by expressly or impliedly requiring participation, or by making the activity part of the services of an employee, bring the activity within the orbit of the employment; or
- The employer derives substantial benefit from the activity beyond the intangible value of improvement in employee health and moral that is common to all kinds of recreation and social life.”
The court concluded:
“We agree that Whigham was impliedly required to attend the kickball game he organized and that it became a part of his services; therefore, the event was brought within the scope of his employment. Although the event may have been voluntary for company employees generally, the undisputed facts unequivocally indicate Whigham was expected to attend as part of his professional duties. Accordingly, we hold Whigham’s injury arose out of his employment as a matter of law.” Whigham v Jackson Dawson Communications and The Hartford (S.C., 8/27/14).
Company Sponsored Teams
The phrase “company-sponsored teams” should, by default, result in finding that the injured employee is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. In cases that occurred in New York and Chicago (Tedesco v General Electric Co. 114 N.E. 2d 33(NY 1953), City and County of Denver v Lee, 450 P. 2d 352 (Colo 1969), benefits were awarded for employee injuries during organized, uniformed and scheduled games in which company premises were used, the employers subsidized the league, received favorable publicity in the media, games were held during work hours and the uniforms had the employers’ names and logos printed on them.
However, in a similar Massachusetts case, benefits were denied. A company-provided softball shirts with the company name and logo on them. Employees were allowed to put the jersey’s on at work, but the game was played on a public softball field. The company did not require participation and did not actively participate in any team events. The games were played after work and in a league sponsored by the city of Boston.
The court concluded that the claimant’s after-work injury sustained in an after-work softball game at a public field was not eligible for benefits simply because the company provided shirts. The court noted that when an employee’s recreational activity (1) occurs after work and off the employer’s premises, (2) is not the result of compulsion or pressure by the employer, and (3) is not sponsored by the employer, the benefit to the employer is “…at best inferential…insignificant…and incidental.” In re Kemp, 437 N.E. 2d 526, 530 (Mass 1982).
Lastly, let’s take a look at an example that occurred during a holiday party. Holiday parties are common for many companies these days and are prone to being a source of potential workers’ compensation cases.
In one New York case from 1961, a male employee was stabbed at the annual Christmas party by a jealous co-worker. The court ruled that the employer had supplied the liquor, entertainment and place for the party and the dancing and drinking at the party had provoked the conflict.
In a separate New York case, compensation was denied when an employee died of an alcohol overdose. The employee had been competing with a co-worker to see who was able to drink more. The court ruled that the death arose out of the decedent’s voluntary excessive drinking and not the employment relationship.
Are You Eligible for Benefits?
If you were injured at a work event and are unsure if you’re eligible for benefits, contact that attorney’s at Erwin, McCane, and Daly today. We’re a trusted source of representation in the Capital Region and will be on your side to personally handle your case. From your initial consultation to the court ruling, we’ll work to defend your rights every step of the way.