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Does workers' compensation cover injuries at office parties?

If you get hurt at your employer's holiday party, are you covered under workers' compensation?

In North Carolina, probably not -- at least, not if attendance at the party was truly voluntary, held off-site and didn't particularly benefit your employer. While each state has it's own nuances in the law, a new ruling by a North Carolina court has provided some clarification about when an injury at a holiday party is and isn't covered under workers' compensation benefits.

Workers' compensation benefits are designed as a safety-net for employees who get hurt during the ordinary course of their employment. However, employers often hold small social gatherings as a way to boost company morale or to encourage employees to bond in some way. Sometimes bosses hold parties simply to try to connect more directly with the people who work under them, in a less formal atmosphere.

In the recent lawsuit, the court explained that injuries at a social event outside of the regular job could be covered, but only under limited circumstances:

—The social event took place on company property during regular business hours.

—The employer required employees to be at the social event, no matter where or when it was held.

—The employer benefited in some substantial way from the social event, other than just through a general improvement in employee health and morale.

In the past, there have been cases where coverage was extended to less-than-ordinary circumstances, like a company picnic that's held during an extended lunch break. Similarly, if your company holds a company softball game that's designed to be a team-building exercise, any injuries you receive as a result would likely be covered. Those sort of events are often mandatory. Even if they aren't, the employer is benefiting through the "team building" experience employees are gaining in the process.

However, sometimes a party is just a party, and it's held just to promote general good will between the bosses and the staff. In those situations, North Carolina law generally won't extend workers' compensation coverage to someone who gets injured.

If you were injured at a social function that was work-related and believe you should be covered under workers' compensation as a result, you may want to file a claim for benefits. An attorney can provide guidance in such cases and can help if an appeal is needed for a denial of benefits.

Source: FindLaw, "What Types of Injuries are Compensable Under Wokers' Compensation," accessed Jan. 03, 2017

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