There’s no doubt that most of us enjoy work events. You can get out of the office for a while at a picnic, kickball game, charity event, or holiday party. You can also get to know your coworkers in a more relaxed setting. In the event that the party goes south and an employee is injured, who is responsible for paying for the injuries?

It is common for many people to assume that the employer is responsible. It is assumed that the injury occurred at a work-related or sponsored event, thus making it a workers’ compensation claim. Injuries that occur “out of and in the course of employment” are covered by workers’ compensation.

Workers’ compensation law often uses this elusive phrase. The facts of the case play a major role in determining who pays for work-related injuries. Let’s explore further to gain a better understanding.

The extent of liability depends on a number of factors, but there are some basic risks that can be avoided.

Workers’ compensation benefits are paid for injuries suffered while performing work, although laws vary from state to state.

Workers’ compensation would not apply if an employee was injured while voluntarily playing on a company-sponsored team that employees otherwise ran.

To reduce liability, avoid holding events on company property or during employee work hours; ensure participation is strictly voluntary, and do not allow employees to leave work early to attend games unless they choose to do so.

Is an Employee’s Injury During an Employer-Sponsored Event Eligible for Worker’s Compensation?

In some cases, yes. Generally, worker’s compensation only applies to injuries that are considered work-related. Some courts consider employer parties and events to be job-related, while others believe worker’s compensation should only apply to workplace injuries. However, some courts have no set rule on job-related injuries, examining various factors on a case-by-case basis.

Are Injuries Sustained During an Employer-Sponsored Event Job-Related?

Due to the fact that employees who attend employer-sponsored events aren’t there to work (e.g., accountants don’t attend company parties to review balance sheets), courts must determine whether the event itself is job-related. A number of factors must be considered, including:

  • Whether an employee’s attendance at the event was forced or voluntary
  • Whether attendance benefited the employee in some way (e.g., extra pay, extended work hours, etc.).
  • Participation or control of the employer over the event
  • Whether it was a recurring event or a one-time occurrence

What if the Injury Occurred While Traveling to or From the Event?

When determining whether an injury is work-related, courts will look at this factor as well.

Most courts will still consider the above mentioned factors when an employee is injured while traveling to or from an employer-sponsored event. Some courts, however, strictly rule that travel to or from employer-sponsored events is not considered work-related. The general rule is that an employee’s travel to and from work is outside the scope of employment.

General Liability

If the employer owns the facility where the activity takes place, it may be liable as a property owner. Employers should review their general liability and other property insurance policies to cover accidents sustained at sponsored events. Employee handbooks should be updated with details about company policy regarding social events and athletic activities, and employees should notify the employer if any recreational or social activities are taking place on company property.

General liability risks may exist even if the organization isn’t sponsoring or paying for the activities.

Employee Release of Liability

Work with a legal expert to design a general release of liability for employees participating in the event. The release may state the event is voluntary, not work-related, that the company will not supervise it, and that employees assume all risks associated with it.

Workers’ compensation benefits are generally available to employees who are injured while working. Workers’ compensation benefits are not available to an injured employee who attends a social event voluntarily coordinated by other workers.

A social event injury, however, will likely be covered if the following factors are present:

  • If employees were required to go to a work-related event, or had any reason to think the event was mandatory, such an event would be considered within the scope of their employment, especially if there were potential repercussions for attendance.
  • If the event occurred during normal business hours or on company property, the injured worker may be considered to have been working during such an event.
    • Alternatively, if the event occurred off-site, after work hours, or otherwise while the employee was off-duty, an injury at the event would not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. Even if an event is held on company property, employers should look over their general liability and insurance policies, as well as provide liability waivers for workers to sign.
  • If employee attendance at a specific event benefits the employer, such as a brainstorming session or work presentation, such attendance falls within the scope of employment.
    • Workers’ compensation will not cover injuries if the event is solely for the employee’s benefit.

These Factors Will Be Considered by the Court

If the Event Takes Place During Working Hours
During normal working hours, the injured employee may be considered to be attending the event.

Attendance Requirements or Expectations for Employees
Attending an event off company property and outside of normal working hours cannot reasonably be considered part of the employee’s employment. Workers’ compensation benefits may be available if an employee is made to choose between attending the event, losing pay, or taking a vacation day.

Workers’ compensation benefits would not apply if they were able to choose between a company event and their regular job.

How Much Your Company Benefits from the Event, and How Much Sponsorship it Receives
These factors will also be considered. Don’t require employees to attend company-sponsored events if you want to avoid workers’ compensation claims. In the event of an injury, you will likely be held liable.

The Frequency and Timing of the Activity in Relation to Work

Even if the event occurs during or after work hours, inform your employees that it is optional.
If you are planning a company event, keep these things in mind:

Alcohol Should Be Consumed With Caution
An event that serves alcohol requires extra caution. Open bars are a recipe for trouble. Instead of cash, use tickets and make sure there is plenty of food. You should also stop serving alcohol well before the event ends.

Use Outside Wait Staff
Hire a catering service or have the party at a restaurant instead of having company personnel serve alcohol. Liability risks will be reduced as a result.

If you plan a company-sponsored event this summer with care, everyone can have a great time, and you won’t have to worry about getting sued.

How Can a Lawyer Help Me?

If you have been denied worker’s compensation for injuries sustained during an employer-sponsored event, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

Your lawyer can review your worker’s compensation forms and inform you of current laws in your area. In the end, an attorney can help you determine if your injuries are covered under your employer’s worker’s compensation benefits. Find the right attorney in your area through LegalMatch today.