Throughout the holiday season, and even into the New Year, employers show their appreciation for employees by hosting a company holiday party. These events are intended as celebrations and joyful affairs for the company’s employees. Sometimes gifts are exchanged or dinner is provided. Other employers turn their conference room into a winter wonderland, and some rent an event space. One of the biggest decisions is whether or not to include alcohol as part of the party.
The festive environment not only increases employee morale and commitment but also encourages co-workers to step away from work and form personal relationships. These parties can be essential to retention and company culture. However, each year in New Jersey several employees leave the office holiday party with injuries.
Common Injuries at the Office Holiday Party
The office holiday party provides the perfect environment for certain injuries. These parties almost always involve food and drink, which is spilled and sloshed throughout the night. Unlike a normal workday, other employees are far less likely to clean up these spills. Slick or wet floors lead to slips and falls. It isn’t unusual for a few employees to leave with bumps, bruises, or even broken bones from a slippery floor. These spills are even more dangerous when out on the dance floor, where employees are already prone to lower back injuries and other strains.
As well, holiday celebrations also include extra decorations. Even if the holiday party is hosted at the office, employers will rent or buy lights, ornaments, knick-knacks, and tinsel to give the space a festive flair. These decorations and the electric cords needed to power them are trip hazards to employees throughout the night. As well, electric shock and other injuries can occur if employees are responsible for the decorating.
Lastly, alcohol is an underlying cause of many injuries. It can lead to slips, falls, burns, and other injuries that require days or weeks away from the office. Hazards that would normally be noticed are overlooked, and New Jersey employees complain of several alcohol-induced injuries after a company party during the holiday season.
Do Holiday Parties “Arise from Employment”?
Typically, injuries at an office holiday party are not compensable under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation statute. Back in 1980, the New Jersey Legislature passed a new provision in the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act regarding recreational and social activities hosted or provided by the workplace. This provision clarified that such activities, including office holiday parties, aren’t considered in the course of employment or work-related activities under workers’ compensation unless, an exception applies.
Other activities that are deemed by New Jersey courts as being purely for employee health and morale include corporate exercise classes or outings, participation in the company softball league, and happy hour events hosted by the employer. A New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney can provide more information on what employment activities are considered “social” or “recreational.”
Exceptions to No Workers’ Compensation for Holiday Parties
In a narrow set of circumstances, a social activity could fall under New Jersey workers’ compensation. The legal standard for this exception has two requirements. The activity must be, “a regular incident of employment,” and provide a benefit to the employer other than employee morale or satisfaction. Only if both of these requirements are met could an office holiday party fall under workers’ compensation.
What does this legal standard mean for New Jersey employees and employers? The company holiday party is often a regular incident of employment. It happens on an annual basis and is advertised and encouraged in the workplace. Therefore, it is usually easy to satisfy this requirement. The second half of the exception is more difficult and complicated.
New Jersey courts haven’t found a clear standard for showing when an office holiday party benefits the employer beyond employee morale, except in one case. When the holiday party is mandatory for a particular employee, it falls under workers’ compensation. For example, if an administrator or human resources employee is paid to attend the event, then such activity is no longer just social or recreational, but incident to the employee’s employment.
Questions for a Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Were you injured at the office holiday party or another seasonal event?
If you slipped or tripped at a company event and want to know if workers’ compensation will cover the medical expenses for such injury, you should contact a workers’ compensation attorney in New Jersey.
The Law Office of Albert J. Talone provides a free, initial consultation for New Jersey employees that were injured at work or work events. We are happy to discuss the specifics of your injuries in a confidential conversation and help determine if you have a claim for workers’ compensation. Call our Southeast New Jersey office at (856)-234-4023.
The information in this blog post (“Post”) is provided for general informational purposes only. This information may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this Post should be construed as legal advice from The Law Office of Albert J. Talone or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.