Are You Covered at a Volunteer/Non-Paid Work Event?: “Family Fun Day” NJ Case Ruling

In recent New Jersey workers’ compensation case Gouding v. NJ Friendship House, Inc., New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Fernandez-Vina delivered a decision that an employee’s injuries sustained at a “Family Fun Day” event held by her employer are compensable.

The claimant, who was employed by a non-profit organization, worked Monday through Friday as a chef/cook, with job duties including cooking and teaching classes for the employer’s clients. On a Saturday, the claimant’s employer hosted a “Family Fun Day” event for clients and their families, at which the claimant volunteered at the employer’s request on her own volition. While working the event as a chef/cook, she stepped in a pothole, fell and injured her ankle. The claimant later filed for workers compensation benefits, which were rejected by her employer, arguing that she was not “working” when her injury was sustained. The workers’ compensation court dismissed the claimant's argument on the grounds that the “Family Fun Day” could be categorized as a social or recreational event, not a work event, and the appellate division later confirmed the original ruling.

On appeal with the New Jersey Supreme Court, however, Justice Fernandez-Vina ruled that the claimants injury was compensable. The decision states, “Under New Jersey’s Worker’s Compensation Act, an employee injured during a social or recreational activity generally cannot receive compensation for those injuries. See N.J.S.A. 34:15-7. However, the Act provides an exception to that general rule and 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.’”

The court went on to reject the workers’ compensation court’s determination that the event at which the claimant was injured was a social or recreational activity, and determined that even if it were a social or recreational activity, the claimant would still satisfy the two-part statutory exception under N.J.S.A. 34:15-7. Being that the claimant’s role at the event was the same as that of her typical employment duties, and that the claimant would not have been asked to volunteer for the event unless it were for her employment with the company, the court thus ruled that the claimant's injury was "a regular incident of her employment", and that she is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits as a result.

To read the full decision, click here.

If you have any questions, please call Goldberg & Wolf, LLC at 856-651-1600.