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Employee’s injury at volunteer event not compensable

Posted On: Nov. 8, 2019 1:36 PM CST

New Jersey ruling

Injuries sustained by a worker during a nonwork family event on the employer’s grounds are not compensable, an appellate court held in a 2-0 decision Thursday.

In Goulding v. NJ Friendship House Inc., the Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division in Trenton affirmed a judge of compensation’s decision to reject the employee’s claim for benefits on the grounds that she was volunteering, not working, for the event.

Kim Goulding worked as a cook on an hourly basis for Hackensack, New Jersey-based North Jersey Friendship House Inc., a nonprofit that provides vocational training and services to individuals with developmental issues.

On Sept. 23, 2017, the nonprofit hosted a “Family Fun Day” event in its rear parking lot and provided recreation and social services to its clients and families, and asked employees if they would volunteer at the event in any area of their choosing. Ms. Goulding offered to help set up breakfast and grill the lunch. When she was preparing to grill, she stepped into a small pothole on the grounds and fell, injuring her right foot and ankle.

Ms. Goulding sought medical and temporary disability benefits for her injury, which were denied. A workers compensation judge found that her accident “did not arise out of or in the course of her employment,” and she appealed.

The appellate court affirmed the compensation judge’s ruling, holding that since the fun day was intended “to celebrate” with clients, their families and the community and was not a fundraiser, the event did not produce a benefit to the employer beyond boosting employee health and morale.

Although Ms. Goulding argued that she was working in her usual capacity as a cook on the day of the event and that it benefited the employer in the form of “positive public relations,” the appellate court noted that she admitted that she was not required or compelled to participate or even attend and that she failed to show how the employer benefitted from the event.

The appellate court said it found no error with the compensation judge’s factual findings and that the decision to deny benefits to Ms. Goulding was supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record.