If an employee was injured while volunteering on behalf of the company, what does mean for workers' compensation?

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Many employers require workers to do some volunteer work and volunteer for certain activities that have some association to the employment. It may be strong, volunteering or overtime, or weak, attending a company picnic. What are the implications for safety and workers compensation?

Some of the cases that involve volunteering tend to be an employee working overtime on a project, participating in events, etc. The connection to work is pretty clear. If  the employee volunteers for these activities, the injuries that may arise out of and in the course of those events are work-related and typically accepted and compensable in most jurisdictions.

In the above instances, the workers (and their families) are still covered and protected. As well as the employer protecting themselves from any suit for work-related injuries that may arise. However if the event is not deemed work-related, the employer might still be faced with liabilities in the event of an injury.

Just because a voluntary event or activity is covered by workers' compensation, does not mean that the employer can forget about health and safety.  Occupational health and safety standards would still apply in these situations. 

According to a list created by WorkersCompensation.com, employers should think about these things before asking an employee to do some voluntary work:

  • Are the protections normally provided available to the worker(s)?
  • Are there special risks or hazards associated with this work that need to be identified?
  • If the worker is working alone, what provisions are required and in place for his or her protection?

Then there are those company picnics which are to be considered "voluntary events"--softball games, project celebration parties, etc. Are they voluntary or work-related? That all depends on the jurisdiction and the circumstances, injuries that may arise from participation may be compensable.  Each case will be determined on its own merits, but the adjudicators tend to look at the expectations for attendance, where it takes place, how involved the employer is in sponsoring the event and the degree to which the activity or event furthers the objectives of the organization.

When a company wants to offer such events and activities, they should be aware of the work-relatedness and have the health and safety professional look at the hazards that may be inherent in the activity, venue or event and ensure compliance with occupational safety and health standards.

If you have been hurt in one of these work-related events or activities and are not sure it is covered by workers' compensation, give us a call at (202) 393-3200


Frank R. Kearney, Attorney-at-Law
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Experienced DC Workers' Comp, Long Term Disability & Accident Lawyer
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