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Injuries at Office Parties and Team-Building Exercises Compensable?

Experienced Employment Lawyers Serving Victims of Work-Related Injuries throughout New York

“Tis the season to be jolly.” As the winter holiday period approaches and the number of “office parties” and other social gatherings having at least some connection with the workplace become quite common in the Capital District, the question sometimes arises: Are injuries sustained at social gatherings or during team-building exercises compensable under New York’s workers’ compensation law? The answer: You’ve already guessed – it depends.

New York’s Special Statutes

Since 1983, New York’s Workers’ Compensation Law has had a special provision dealing with recreational activities, including holiday gatherings. Under N.Y. Work. Comp. Law § 10(1), the employer has no liability for workers’ compensation benefits where the injury was sustained in or caused by voluntary participation in an off-duty activity not constituting part of the employee’s work-related duties unless the employer:

  •  Requires the employee to participate in the activity,
  •  Compensates the employee to participate in the activity, or
  •  Otherwise sponsors the activity.

Strong “Encouragement” to Attend Can Bring Injury Within the Employment

In one classic case, Diem v. Diem & Buerger Ins. Co., 146 A.D.2d 840, 536 N.Y.S.2d 246 (3rd Dept. 1989), compensation was awarded where the court found that a baseball league in question was composed entirely of employees of insurance companies and insurance agencies and, although the employee was not specifically required to join the team, the employer “encouraged” it because it was “good for business.” Noteworthy in that case was the fact that the employer’s name was featured on the game uniforms.

Compensation Allowed Where Employer “Dominates” the Social or Athletic Event

A similar situation involved injuries sustained by an employee who was riding a motorcycle that collided with a truck while the employee was en route from his home to a playing field to engage in a softball game. He was a member of a team in a softball league that is organized, sponsored, and financed by the employer, and the accident arose out of and in the course of the employment. The court said that there was substantial evidence supporting the employee’s contention that the employer benefited from and dominated the program [see Burlingame v. Mobil Chemical Co., 61 A.D.2d 273, 402 N.Y.S.2d 70, 1978 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 9733 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep’t 1978)].

Indirect Benefit to Employer is Generally Insufficient

On the other hand, a widow was denied workers’ compensation death benefits after her husband, who worked as an accountant for a private firm, suffered a fatal heart attack while bowling for a team sponsored by one of his employer’s clients. It was determined that even if her husband’s participation on the bowling team was of substantial benefit to his employer, there was no evidence of overt encouragement by the employer [see Dorosz v Green & Seifter, 92 N.Y.2d 672, 685 N.Y.S.2d 406, 708 N.E.2d 162, 1999 N.Y. LEXIS 35 (N.Y. 1999)].

Recovery for Work-Related Injuries Ordinarily Requires a Skilled Attorney

Workers’ compensation claims are generally fact-dominated. In order to prevail, the injured employee normally needs the services of a skilled, experienced attorney. The trusted attorneys at E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy have decades of experience handling workers’ compensation cases throughout New York State. When you need a legal team that delivers results, look no further. Our lawyers always offer a free initial consultation to review your workers’ compensation case and answer all of your questions, confidentially.

We regularly advise working men and women of their legal rights and serve clients in the Albany region as well as throughout Upstate New York, from Poughkeepsie to Utica to Saratoga Springs and beyond. We also know how to properly prepare third-party liability claims if someone other than your employer is responsible for your injury. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation. We can meet you at any of our four regional offices located in Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga Springs, or at a location more convenient for you.