Injured at the Office Holiday Party – Is it Possible that I am covered by workers’ comp?
The short answer is yes, it is possible. Employees injured within the “course and scope” of their employment relationship are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Employees suffering injury or death attending a social event, such as a holiday party, have been found by the Pennsylvania Courts to fall under the protections of the workers’ compensation laws.
An employee injured while traveling to and attending a social gathering put on by his employer where his attendance is mandatory is most likely covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act. This is true even if the social gathering is outside of usual work hours or is at a location other than of the employer’s usual place of business such as a banquet hall or restaurant. The mandatory nature of the employee’s attendance brings him under the protections of the work injury law. This was the case in Miller v. Keystone Appliances, Inc. The employer’s “control” over the employees attendance was found to be a critical factor. Similarly, in Saylor v. Gehley’s Carpet Store benefits were awarded to the family of a deceased worker whose attendance at a company picnic was not mandatory but who was being paid during his attendance. The Courts in both of these cases found that the employee was within the “course and scope” of employment at the time of injury/death.
Voluntary, unpaid attendance at an employer sponsored social gathering may take the worker outside of the employment relationship. Similarly, injuries occurring while traveling to and from the off-site office party (such as an automobile crash) raise additional challenges for injured workers to overcome on the “course and scope” of employment issue. Certainly, these legal challenges can be overcome and the protections of the workers’ compensation laws can be invoked. Proper care, analysis, and advocacy must be given on the facts giving rise to the injury itself, the employer’s benefit/gain from the injured worker’s attendance at the social gathering, the degree of the employer’s insistence or promotion of the injured worker’s attendance, and the extent to which the worker was advancing his employer’s business objectives and goals at the time of injury.