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Workers' Compensation Liability Arising Out Of Recreational Or Social Events: Its All Fun And Games Until Someone Gets Hurt

August 05, 2015 BY Lauren Julian

As the weather warms up and everyone gravitates towards spending more time outdoors, Employer’s often host or sponsor recreational or social events for their employees. Events such as picnics, sporting teams, festivals, and parties can be a good source of team building and a great morale boost for a workforce. While such events are a fun and relaxed way to socialize, encourage teambuilding and boost morale, they can also be a source of unexpected liability for injuries incurred by employees in the course of organizing, attending, participating, or otherwise assisting with recreational and social events. This article will discuss the various areas of liability for such recreational or social events under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Please keep in mind that in situations where liability does not exist under the Workers’ Compensation Act, the employee could have a valid cause of action against the Employer under another theory of law. 

In order for an injury to be compensable under the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act, it must both arise out of and occur in the course of employment. An injury arises out of employment when there is a causal connection between the conditions under which the employee works and the injury which is received. Chaparral Boats, Inc. v. Heath, 269 Ga. App. 339, 606 S.E.2d 567 (2004) (citing Hennly v. Richardson, 264 Ga. 355, 444 S.E.2d 317 (1994)). The causative danger must be incidental to the character of the employment and the accident must be one resulting from a risk reasonably incident to the employment, namely when it is connected with what an employee has to do in fulfilling her contract of service. Chaparral Boats, Inc. v. Heath, 269 Ga. App. at 340, (citing Thornton v. Hartford Accident & Casualty Co., 198 Ga. 786, 32 S.E.2d 816 (1945)).
Additionally, an injury occurs in the course of employment when it occurs within the period of her employment, at the place where she is performing her employment and while she is fulfilling her employment duties or engaged in doing something incidental to the duties. Hadsock v. J.H. Harvey Company, Inc., 212 Ga. App. 782, 442 S.E.2d 892 (1994) (quoting General Fire & Casualty Company v. Bellflower, 123 Ga. App. 864, 182 S.E. 2d 678 (1971)); Hennly v. Richardson, 264 Ga. 355, 444 S.E. 2d 317 (1994).
Generally, injuries incurred in the course of recreational and social events are within the course of employment, and therefore compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act, if they fall into one of three situations: (1) the injury occurs on the Employer’s premises or during working hours, including lunch or recreation periods, as a regular incident of employment, (2) the employer, either by expressly or impliedly requiring participation or by making the activity part of the services of an employee, brings the activity within the orbit of the employment, or  (3) the employer derives substantial and direct benefit from the activity beyond the intangible value of improvement in employee health and morale that is common to all kinds of recreational or social activities. Additional factors that tend to suggest compensability are if the Employer contributes to the teams’ support either monetarily or through providing equipment or uniforms, or the idea for the team originated with the Employer, rather than employees, who started and organized same. Pizza Hut of America v. Hood, 198 Ga. App. 112, 400 S.E.2d 657 (1990); City of Augusta v. Nevils, 149 Ga. App. 688, 255 S.E. 140 (1979). Recreational events can come in several forms such as company picnics or recreational sports teams such as softball. 
In addition to injuries that can arise in attendance or participation in an event itself, the Employer may also find itself subject to liability for an employee’s travel to and from the event, particularly for those employees who may be assisting in planning, organizing, decorating, setting up or otherwise performing services towards improving the event. Generally for employees who work at a fixed location and do not travel as part of their job, accidents that occur while an employee is traveling to and from his or her place of employment do not arise out of or occur in the course of employment. Jose Anadrade Painting v. Jaimes, 207 Ga. App. 596, 420 S.E.2d 640 (1993). There are two exceptions to this rule when either the Employer furnishes the mode of transportation or reimburses the employee for transportation costs, or when the travel has as business related purpose. Further, in travel involving both personal and business purposes, an accident will tend to be compensable when the trip has a direct, immediate and substantial business objective.  In situations involving a specific or special task, injuries tend to be held compensable when they include the performance of a service for the employer which would have caused the trip to be taken by the employee, even if it had not coincided with the personal journey. One example of such a trip is picking up and transporting materials on the way into work at the request of the Employer.  Rosser v. Meriwether County, 125 Ga. App. 239, 186 S.E.2d 788, (1971).  Therefore, special consideration should be given to employees who are injured in the course of travel if they are picking up or bringing materials for the event. 
If, in the course of the travel, an employee steps aside from his Employer’s business to do some personal act not connected with his Employer’s business, the relationship of Employer and employee is suspended and an injury incurred at that time is not compensable. However, once the personal deviation is completed and the employee has returned to the business purpose, the Employer-Employee relationship is restored and an accident sustained at that time is compensable. A determination of whether such a deviation has occurred is a fact specific inquiry that will require an Administrative Law Judge to analyze the motivational purpose of the journey in order to determine whether such an injury is compensable.
Recreational and social events can be a valuable source of boosting employee morale, teambuilding, and socializing. However, as we continue in the summer months, it is also important to recognize and mitigate the potential sources of liability to allow for maximum enjoyment of such events.

The Journal is a publication for the clients of Drew Eckl & Farnham, LLP. It is written in a general format and is not intended to be legal advice to any specific circumstance. Legal Opinions may vary when based upon subtle factual differences. All rights reserved. 

Editorial Board:

H. Michael Bagley