One question that comes up frequently, or at least routinely, in North Carolina workers’ compensation claims involves employees injured while playing or participating in recreational activities while on-the-clock or part of an employer-sponsored team building event.
The North Carolina Supreme Court clearly answered this question in Frost v. Salter Path Fire & Rescue, 361 N.C. 181, 185, 639 S.E.2d 429, 433 (2007) when it held that the N.C. Workers’ Compensation Act applied to “injuries occurring during recreational and social activities related to employment” and that this “well established in the jurisprudence of North Carolina.”
Most recently, this issue again arose before the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Holliday v. Tropical Nut & Fruit Co., No. COA14-1030. In Holliday, the employee was attending an out-of-town mandatory sales and marketing conference. One of the activities that was part of the conference was a laser tag activity which was assigned by the employer to the employee. While Plaintiff was “covering the floor [of the laser tag arena],” he felt a sharp pain in his leg and had to stop playing the game. He immediately informed his manager of the injury.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the North Carolina Industrial’s Commission decision finding that Holliday’s leg injury “arose out of his employment” and accordingly awarded him medical and disability benefits. In its analysis, the Court of Appeals considered six factors:
- Did the employer in fact sponsor the event?
- To what extent was attendance voluntary?
- Was there some degree of encouragement to attend?
- Did the employer finance the occasion to a substantial extent?
- Did the employees regard it as an employment benefit to which they were entitled as of right?
- Did the employer benefit from the event, not merely in a vague way through better morale and good will, but through such tangible advantages as having an opportunity to make speeches and awards?
In the Holliday case, the Court of Appeals found that the employer financially sponsored the laser tag event, expressly mandated employee attendance, took attendance at the events, and benefited from the event. As a result, the injury was found to arise out of the employment and disability and medical benefits were awarded.