Are injuries during special work-related events compensable in NC?

Injuries that occur during work-related events, such as lunches and parties, may be compensable in North Carolina under limited circumstances.

Under the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act, workers are entitled to workers' compensation benefits if they sustain injuries in the course of their employment. Determining whether injuries are work-related is often straightforward, since many injuries occur directly in workplace accidents. However, in more unusual circumstances, such as injuries that occur during work-related banquets, picnics or parties, evaluating whether an injury is compensable can be more challenging.

Standards for special occasions

Past North Carolina cases have set special standards to determine whether attendance at a work-related event is part of an employee's job duties. According to a case recently heard before the North Carolina Court of Appeals, an event may be considered work-related if an employer sponsors it or if the employer spends a significant amount of money to put on the event.

The employee's incentives for attendance also help determine whether attending an event if part of the employee's job. The event may be considered work-related if employees are paid for attending, required to work if they do not attend, informed that attendance will be taken or aware that attendance is expected.

Courts may also consider whether attending the event offers workers any special gains. For instance, if the event involves speeches or the dispensing of awards, employees may have a tangible reason to attend. Similarly, if the event promises gains that employees consider part of their job-related perks, the event may be considered work-related.

Case illustrates strict standards

The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently considered the case of two State Highway Patrol employees who were injured while driving back from a department holiday lunch. A Deputy Commissioner approved the workers' claims for workers' compensation benefits, but upon appeal, the Full Commission determined that the injuries did not arise in the course of employment.

The state Court of Appeals affirmed the claim denial. The court justified the decision with the following facts:

•· Employers were told that attending the event was voluntary, and less than half of the employees invited to the event actually attended.

•· The employer did not take attendance or otherwise overtly encourage employees to attend the event.

•· The employer did not spend a significant amount of money to finance or sponsor the lunch; employees only received a group discount on their meals.

•· Employees did not have anything specific to gain by attending the lunch; no awards were presented, and no speeches were made.

Based on these factors, the court viewed the injuries as injuries that arise during travel to and from work, which are typically not compensable.

Help for unusual injuries

Under the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act, injured workers must report work-related injuries within 30 days, except under extenuating circumstances. However, failure to meet this 30-day deadline does not destroy the injured workers' claim if the delay did not cause any prejudice to the employer or their insurance company. If you have missed the 30-day deadline, we may still be able to help, but to be safe always report the injury as soon as possible. Therefore, injured employees should report all accidents and injuries promptly, even if an injury's compensability is questionable or the injury seems minor at first.

Employees who have suffered injuries during work-related events should consult with an experienced workers' compensation attorney to determine whether the injuries may be compensable, based on state law as well as court precedents.

Keywords: workers' compensation, injury, job