During the warm summer months many businesses elect to close for an afternoon to hold a good old-fashioned company picnic. Everyone goes off to a local park for a delicious barbeque lunch where employee camaraderie abounds, fostered by games, contests, and other physical activities, competitive and goofy. Typically, everyone has a great time, but very often one or more of the employees get injured (and we’re not just talking about ant bites)!
And what becomes of those injured workers? Risk managers are quick to point to Labor Code 3600(a)(9) as authority for the proposition that injuries arising out of voluntary, social, or athletic activities are not covered under workers’ compensation law. LC § 3600(a)(9) states: “(Liability for compensation shall exist only) [w]here the injury does not arise out of voluntary participation in any off-duty recreational, social, or athletic activity not constituting part of the employee’s work-related duties, except where these activities are a reasonable expectancy of, or are expressly or impliedly required by, the employment . . .” (emphasis added).
Consequently, most employers believe that injuries occurring at company picnics are not compensable because the workers have not been forced to attend, particularly when the employee has been given a choice to either attend the picnic or remain behind at the office (or their home office) to work. Therefore, most employers presume any injury occurring at the picnic is non-compensable. Regrettably, they are mistaken because that is not what the law provides!
Two exceptions exist, either of which is dispositive for compensability. To better understand these exceptions, let’s once again review the statute, putting emphasis on the two highlighted phrases. LC § 3600(a)(9) states: “ . . . Where the injury does not arise out of voluntary participation in any off-duty recreational, social, or athletic activity not constituting part of the employee’s work-related duties . . .” (emphasis added).
Exception #1: If an employee is paid wages while attending a picnic, then they are not off-duty. Therefore, § LC 3600(a)(9) is inapplicable since the worker is being paid to be at the picnic.
Exception #2: When an employee is allowed the option of either attending a picnic or staying behind at the office, whichever selection they make becomes their work-related duty of the day. In substance, they were given the opportunity to choose their job assignment.
Both are exceptions to LC § 3600(a)(9) where injuries occurring at picnics become compensable.
You’ll get no argument from F+B that company picnics are a great team-building opportunity, but they ain’t no walk in the park for employers when a worker gets injured during the tug-a-war rope contest!