When employers sponsor social gatherings like happy hours, holiday parties, or other events for their employees, this can present some confusion if a worker is injured at the event. The same applies if an employee is injured in a car accident on the way to or from the gathering.
In these scenarios, does the employee qualify for workers’ compensation?
Last November, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Peters v. WCAB extended the “traveling employee” doctrine to include injuries that a worker sustained in a car accident on his way home from a work-related social gathering. In 2015, the claimant, Jonathan Peters, was working as a traveling salesman for Cintas when he was involved in a car accident on his way home from a work-related happy hour. He filed a workers’ comp claim for his injuries, but it was denied. His resulting appeal was also denied by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB), and this decision was confirmed by the Commonwealth Court.
Upon reviewing the case, the PA Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision and awarded Peters medical benefits and six years of retroactive lost earnings. Attorneys for Cintas tried to argue that Peters had officially ended his workday and that participation in the happy hour was voluntary. They also claimed that, because the accident happened on the way home from the happy hour, he was technically off the clock and no longer working in any capacity. The Supreme Court still found in favor of Peters and held that “the employer hosted and sponsored the event” and that it “still benefited the employer by fostering relationships and improving morale.”
Part of what swayed the Supreme Court’s decision was the fact that Peters did not have a fixed place of employment. As a traveling salesman, he was excluded from the typical “coming and going” rule that excludes injuries sustained on commutes to and from work. Even so, this decision is relevant to cases involving employees who are injured at social gatherings sponsored by their employers.
Happy Hour, Holiday Parties & Workers’ Comp
Many employers host or sponsor social events for their employees. These may be in-office parties, meals at restaurants, happy hour gatherings at local bars, or even events at an executive’s home or at a venue like a hotel or a banquet hall. These parties offer opportunities for networking, celebrating successes, and getting to know co-workers. But what happens when someone is injured at the party? And what happens if they’re injured on their way to or from the event?
Injuries at a work party may include:
- Slip and fall accidents
- Auto accidents on the way to or from the event
- Food poisoning
- Accidents during competitions or team-building activities
The decision in Peters v. WCAB shows that, in certain circumstances, an employee may be entitled to workers’ compensation if they are injured on the way to or from a social event hosted by their employer. This may not always apply, however, so it’s important to understand what factors may influence whether you’re covered by workers’ comp.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Was attendance at the event mandatory? If so, this can create a strong argument that any resulting injuries were work-related. Mandatory events are more than mere social gatherings. They are part of your job and should therefore be covered by workers’ compensation.
- Where was the party? If it was on company grounds, this also supports any resulting workers’ compensation claim.
- Was the party during office hours? If the event happened during your normal workday, this can show that it was related to work.
- Who paid for the event? If your employer paid for the event, this is further proof that it was work-related.
- Were you working at the party? If you were at an event that included customers or vendors, and you were networking and building relationships with them, this should qualify the party as a work-related event, covered by workers’ comp.
Ask Our Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Lawyers
For the past 100 years, Handler, Henning & Rosenberg LLC has been helping people in Harrisburg and throughout Pennsylvania after serious accidents and injuries. We know the workers’ compensation system in our commonwealth and understand how it applies to complex issues like work-related travel and office parties. Most of these events are not truly optional, and many involve activities like networking or team building that are a part of one’s job. Our Pennsylvania workers’ comp attorneys believe that every employee deserves full coverage for on-the-job injuries, even when they occur at social events sponsored or hosted by their employers.
To find out more about the ways we can help you, call (888) 498-3023 or contact us online.