An employee who suffered a knee injury while playing laser tag at a company-sponsored marketing conference sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of the employment, held the Court of Appeals of North Carolina recently [Holliday v. Tropical Nut & Fruit Co., 2015 N.C. App. LEXIS 703 (Aug. 18, 2015)]. The court agreed with the state’s Industrial Commission that the three-day conference had been planned by the employer, that the employee’s attendance at the conference was mandatory, that the employer encouraged participation in the laser tag activity and derived a business benefit from the conference as a whole—of which the outing to the laser tag location was an essential part. The court added that the employer benefitted from the team-building and networking opportunities generated through the conference and the recreational activity.
The court pointed out that a six-factor inquiry has been adopted by North Carolina courts to guide compensability determinations for injuries sustained at employer-sponsored recreational and social activities:
- Did the employer in fact sponsor the event?
- To what extent was attendance really voluntary?
- Was there some degree of encouragement to attend evidenced by such factors as: (a) taking a record of attendance; (b) paying for the time spent; (c) requiring the employee to work if he did not attend; or (d) maintaining a known custom of attending?
- Did the employer finance the occasion to a substantial extent?
- Did the employees regard it as an employment benefit to which they were entitled as of right?
- Did the employer benefit from the event, not merely in a vague way through better morale and good will, but through such tangible advantages as having an opportunity to make speeches and awards?
The court added that while those factors were not absolutely controlling, they did serve as helpful guideposts in the inquiry of whether an injury incurred by an employee at such an event arose out of the employment. Considering these factors, the Commission had determined that the employee’s injury arose out of and in the course of the employment. That decision was supported by substantial evidence.