Tips for Getting Through a Divorce With the Right Lawyer

Injured At Your Company's Holiday Party? Can You File For Workers' Compensation Coverage?

The end of the calendar year can bring a number of parties and events, including the workplace holiday party -- from a lunch affair to a booze-fueled event that lasts until the wee hours of the morning. While attendance at these workplace parties may be expected (or even required), as some employees have learned, injuries suffered during these parties may not fall under the workers' compensation umbrella. When can you submit a workers' compensation claim for injuries suffered at a workplace party? If workers' compensation doesn't provide any recourse, what are your other options? Read on to learn more about how holiday parties are treated under workers' compensation law.

When can holiday parties be covered by an employer's workers' compensation policy?

The question of whether workers' compensation coverage applies in a specific situation can largely depend on factors like state workers' compensation laws, the provisions contained within the employer's workers' compensation policy, and even the instructions employees were given. For example, in a state that prioritizes worker protection and a situation in which the employer made attendance at an after-hours holiday party mandatory, it's possible that workers' compensation coverage could apply to injuries suffered during this party; however, in a state with more limited workers' compensation protections and a party that's billed as optional, it's much tougher to make a case for workers' compensation coverage. 

In North Carolina, a court recently held that an employee who broke her wrist in a fall outside an office holiday party could not recover workers' compensation benefits. In denying this claim, the court looked at six separate factors that, when taken together, could point to whether a specific injury was covered or non-covered. These factors include:

  • Whether the employer sponsored the event
  • Whether attendance was voluntary or mandatory
  • Whether there was encouragement to attend (for example, by taking a record of attendance, paying employees their regular hourly rate for attending the event, or requiring the employee to work his or her normal shift in lieu of the event (if it takes place during work hours)
  • Whether the employer "substantially" financed the event
  • Whether the employees regarded the party as an employment benefit (for example, if bonuses were handed out at the party)
  • Whether the employer benefited from the event at least as much as (or more than) employees

In general, the more an event is made mandatory and designed to benefit the employer, the more likely it is to fall under the workers' compensation umbrella; meanwhile, optional events that are primarily planned by coworkers (rather than company representatives) and benefit all parties equally may be deemed voluntary enough to exclude them from workers' compensation coverage. 

What are your other options if you're injured at a workplace holiday party?

Even if you find that your employer's workers' compensation policy doesn't cover the injuries you've suffered, you may have legal recourse against the person (or people) responsible by filing a personal injury lawsuit. For example, if you were struck and injured by an intoxicated coworker, you may be able to sue the coworker or even the person who provided him or her with alcohol (especially if he or she should have been cut off from service a few drinks before the accident). If you fell on ice outside the venue, you could have a claim against the venue owner (if ice removal is the building owner's responsibility) or even the city.

In other cases, you may even be able to file a lawsuit against your employer outside the workers' compensation context, especially if you can show that your employer knew (or should have known) that certain situations could end in injury. You may want to consult a workers' compensation lawyer or personal injury attorney to determine what options are available to you.