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North Carolina Court Clarifies “Going and Coming” Injuries

April 2, 2015 Workers' Compensation

The Bureau of Labor & Statistics reported that there were nearly 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2012, and in 2013, there were 4,405 fatal occupational injuries across the country. North Carolina has laws in place that require employers to provide a safe and sanitary work environment in order to limit workplace injuries and illnesses. Furthermore, the state has a workers’ compensation system in place in order to guarantee injured workers receive monetary compensation for any injuries or illnesses sustained in the course of their work.

However, there are many everyday work situations that make it difficult for employees, employers, and the law itself to determine if an injury actually took place in the course of a worker’s employment. Employees going and coming from workplace events and parties is one such situation. The most confusion occurs when employees are travelling to or from their workplace. The holiday time, in particular, is rife with this problem as workers attend mandatory and non-mandatory company holiday events.

Going and Coming Rule

North Carolina’s “going and coming rule” states that “injuries received by an employee while traveling to or from his place of employment are not covered [under the Workers’ Compensation Act] unless the employer furnishes the means of transportation as an incident of the contract of employment” or if the injuries were sustained “on the premises owned or controlled by the employer.” Prior to a recent court ruling, there was little guidance in the law regarding whether workers can receive compensation for injuries sustained leaving an employer-sponsored party.

In Graven, et al. v. N.C.Dept. of Public Safety-Div. of Law Enforcement, etal., 762 S.E.2d 230, 2014 N.C. App. LEXIS 811(2014), the North Carolina Court of Appeals provided a framework for the “coming and going” rule. While the court ruled in favor of the company, it provided helpful clarity and a list of factors to help determine when workers can be compensated by their employer for injuries sustained at employer-sponsored social events.

John Graven and Kathryn Wall were two State Highway Patrol employees who voluntarily attended their office’s holiday luncheon at a local restaurant. While driving back to work in a state-owned vehicle, the vehicle struck a tree. Both Graven and Wall were injured and applied for workers’ compensation benefits.

In its determination, the court focused on six factors to be used to determine whether an employee’s injuries at a work social event arise out of and in the course of employment. The factors are as follows:

  1. Whether the employer sponsored the event;
  2. Whether attendance was voluntary;
  3. Whether the employer encouraged (and the degree in which) the employee to attend the event;
  4. Whether the employer financed the event and how much;
  5. Whether the employees regarded the event as a benefit of their employment that they were entitled; and
  6. Whether the employer benefited tangibly from the event. This does not include an intangible benefit such as good morale, but tangible advantages as having the opportunity to make speeches and awards.

Under the above framework, the court found in this case that the injuries did not arise out of or in the course of Graven and Wall’s employment. The court further made a point that the “increased risk” of harm does not apply in these circumstances when the employee voluntarily attends a work social event and is “injured due to a risk that is common to the public” (i.e. car accident on a public road).

While this particular case was found not in favor of the workers, it provides much needed clarity in this area of law. This decision illustrates the importance of having an experienced attorney handle your workplace injury and workers’ compensation case. An experienced attorney who understands the evolving landscape North Carolina workers’ compensation law is needed to ensure you get the benefits you are entitled from your employer.