Are injuries at a work holiday party compensable?

The approach of the holiday season means it’s time for baking, decorating the house and visits from family. It also means that many workplaces host holiday parties. But what happens when an employee at a work party is injured? In some cases, the injury may be compensable through workers’ compensation.

According to Minnesota law, injuries that occur during voluntary work events are typically not compensable. Statute 176.021.subd.9 states:

Injuries incurred while participating in voluntary recreational programs sponsored by the employer, including health promotion programs, athletic events, parties, and picnics, do not arise out of and in the course of employment even though the employer pays some or all of the cost of the program. This exclusion does not apply in the event that the injured employee was ordered or assigned by the employer to participate in the program.

Exceptions to the rule

Although in most cases the injury would not be compensable, there are some exceptions. The statute applies only if the event is completely voluntary, there is no punishment for not attending and the event does not benefit the employer.

An injury could potentially be compensable under one of these circumstances:

  • The event was optional, but those who didn't attend had to remain at work
  • There was coercion to attend the event
  • The event was promotional or marketable in a way that benefited the employer
  • Employees at the event were working, even if it was optional
  • Clients are present and employees are furthering the employer’s business
  • Although there is no requirement, there are expectations that everyone attends, with potential consequences for those who do not
  • Employees who attended the event were paid or rewarded for doing so

If a work party is taking place on work premises, injuries are more likely to be compensable than those that happen at other locations.

Even for a fun event like a holiday party, don't let down your guard about safety hazards to your employees. It would be unfortunate if something intended to be enjoyable ended in someone getting hurt.

This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.

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