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Employee Hurt While Volunteering at Company Outing Is Entitled to Workers’ Compensation

hurt while volunteering at work

The New Jersey Supreme Court has expanded the circumstances in which employees’ injuries can be considered job-related for purposes of workers’ compensation. The court ruled that a company cook who volunteered to prepare meals at a community event sponsored by her employer was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for injuries incurred.

Under New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Act, an employee injured during a social or recreational activity generally cannot receive compensation for those injuries unless the employee meets a two-part exception. The exception requires that recreational or social activities meet these criteria:

  • They are a regular incident of employment
  • They produce a benefit to the employer beyond improvement in employee health and morale

In the case just decided, Goulding v. North Jersey Friendship House Inc., a nonprofit organization that assists individuals with disabilities held a “Family Fun Day” for clients and families and asked employees if they would volunteer. Kim Goulding, who worked as a cook at Friendship House, offered her services. On the day of the event, while performing her cooking duties, she stepped into a pothole and injured her foot and ankle.

Goulding applied for workers’ compensation, but the Workers’ Compensation Court denied her claim, determining that Goulding’s volunteer activity at a social or recreational event meant her injury was not a regular incident of employment. In addition, the court found the event did not produce a benefit to the employer that would meet the statutory exception. The Appellate Division affirmed the ruling.

The Supreme Court reversed, noting that Goulding’s role at the event — preparing meals — was essentially the same as her paid position at Friendship House. Goulding would not have volunteered to cook at the event had she not been an employee. Therefore, as to Goulding, the event was not a social or recreational activity and her injury was a regular incident of employment.

The court further found that Friendship House used “Family Fun Day” as an outreach event to bond with clients and their families in hopes of creating goodwill in the community. This goodwill was a clear benefit to the organization beyond improvement to employee health and morale, the court found.

The Court’s finding — that even intangible benefits, such as goodwill, can be used to show that an activity benefited an employer — means more types of activities may now be considered part of employment duties and thus covered by workers’ compensation.

If you are injured in a work-related accident, make sure you get the workers’ compensation benefits you’re entitled to by choosing an attorney capable of delivering positive results. For more than 25 years, Kevin T. Kutyla, Esq. has provided outstanding legal representation for clients in Sussex and Morris counties and throughout New Jersey. The office is conveniently located in Succasunna at 15 Commerce Boulevard, just off Route 10. Call 973-940-8970 or contact the firm online to schedule an appointment.