We are entering the season of work-sponsored holiday parties. When an employer-sponsored party is held off of work premises such as at a hotel, casino or restaurant and an employee is injured at the party or during the trip to or from the event, whether the injury is covered under Maryland Workers’ Compensation law can be a complicated question.
Arising out of and in the course of employment
When an employee is injured in the employer’s workplace, Workers’ Compensation normally would cover that injury. The rules that apply when the injury occurs away from work premises or during a commute or side trip are much more complex and depend largely on the unique facts involved in each case.
We recently posted here a blog about the going-and-coming rule, which says that an injury sustained during a typical commute to or from work is normally not covered, with some specific exceptions.
A Maryland work-party case
In 2015, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland issued an unpublished opinion that elaborates extensively on legal issues, including the going-and-coming rule, that can arise when an injury is related to a work-sponsored and -financed party away from the office or plant.
In Bolognino v. Lemek LLC, a Panera restaurant manager slipped on ice and fell, breaking her leg, while walking from an annual off-premises holiday party to her car in a lot designated for employee parking at the event, which was held at a stadium. The party was for managers from many of their stores. Attendance had not been required, but had been “strongly suggested.”
The special errand exception
The lower court had said that the injury was not compensable because of the going-and-coming rule. The Court of Special Appeals, however, disagreed, holding that when an off-site employer-sponsored “social [event]” is sufficiently related to work to be an “incident of employment,” an injury during the commute to or from that event is covered under an exception to the going-and-coming rule: the special errand exception.
Incident to employment
The court found the party to be incident to employment because of several work-related opportunities:
- Manager networking and “good will”
- Promotion of “enthusiasm” that helps a service business
- Improvement of employee relationships
The special errand exception applied to cover the injury during the trip home because Panera could not have benefited from these business goals unless the managers could commute to and from the party.