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’tis the season – holiday parties and workplace accidents

Accidents during a holiday party at work may qualify as work accidents and thus be covered by statutory social accident insurance. However, this will be only be the case if the holiday party is in fact considered a work event and organised by the employer. Following a judgment by the German Federal Social Court (Bundessozialgericht, BSG), a holiday party organised by employees for their colleagues does not qualify as a work event (judgment dated 26 June 2014, docket number B 2 U 7/13 R).

In the case at hand, employees of an Employment Office organised a holiday party in a bowling alley outside of working hours. The costs of the party were borne by the participants themselves, and the invitees all worked in the same team. During the party, the plaintiff tripped and suffered an injury. When her claim to have the accident recognised as a work accident was rejected, she unsuccessfully sought legal recourse. The Federal Social Court held that since the holiday party could not be considered a work-related event, it was not covered by the statutory accident insurance. Pursuant to Book 7 of the German Social Security Code, work accidents are accidents suffered when carrying out a so-called insured task, which includes accidents at the workplace or during activities with an occupational purpose. Work-related team events, such as holiday parties, are also covered as they are considered to promote teambuilding. However, such events must be organised or at least be initiated by the employer. Private events, even if they may benefit the employer and are known and welcomed by the employer, will not trigger accident insurance protection. Applying these standards, the Federal Social Court found that the holiday party merely qualified as a private event. The party had been initiated and organised solely by employees, and the management had not declared its approval of the event.

Following this judgment, it will be necessary in practice to clearly distinguish between work events and private events, even if they are organised in connection with the employment relationship. Employers should bear this in mind during the festive season.