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Family Not So Fun Day (NJ)

June 25, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In New Jersey, a plaintiff sought to recover worker’s compensation benefits after she fell in a pothole at a recreational event that was organized by the non-profit organization she worked for. Employees of the non-profit were asked to volunteer to work the event, but were not penalized if they opted out.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The plaintiff in<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Goulding.pdf">Goulding</a> v. NJ Friendship House, Inc</em>., worked as a chef/cook for NJ Friendship House, and was preparing lunch for the event when she stepped in a pothole and fell, injuring her ankle. Goulding filed a claim for worker’s compensation and benefits. Friendship House maintained she was not entitled to relief because she was not working for the organization when the injury occurred.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Under New Jersey’s Worker’s Compensation Act, if an employee is injured during a social event, they generally cannot recover compensation for those injuries unless they meet a two-part exception. The two-prong test to the Act provides: expressly permits compensation “when such recreational or social activities [(1)] are a regular incident of employment and [(2)] produce a benefit to the employer beyond improvement in employee health and morale.” See N.J.S.A 34:15-7. The worker’s compensation court, and subsequently the Appellate Division, both ruled that the Family Fun Day was a social/recreational event and not within the scope of plaintiff’s employment with the organization.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">After granting certification, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that plaintiff did in fact meet the exception of the two-prong test, because she worked in the same capacity for the organization as she did at the event, and but for the fact that she was asked to be a volunteer because she was an employee of the organization, she would not have been injured. The court also determined that because the Family Fun Day was designed as a “community outreach event”, the employer’s clients were benefitted, and therefore it could not be deemed a recreational event. The court subsequently reversed and remanded the case to the worker’s compensation court.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This matter serves as a cautionary tale for employers to ensure that if your organization plans a social or recreational event, it may end up costing you.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Haley Matthes for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="mailto:Haquino@wcmlaw.com">Heather Aquino</a> with any questions.</p>

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