OSHA added a letter of interpretation determining if injuries and illnesses are work-related when employees participate in off-site voluntary charitable activity.
The letter is dated 10-5-2020, and in part it reads: “In your letter, you describe a scenario where an employer tells employees that they may spend a day assisting with a charitable event, such as Habitat for Humanity. The employer does not require employees to perform charitable activity but leaves the decision to volunteer entirely up to the employee. Employees who do volunteer are not docked pay by the employer for the missed day(s) of work.
Question: If an employee is injured off-site while participating in the voluntary charitable activity, is the case work-related?
Response: OSHA's recordkeeping regulation at 29 CFR § 1904.5(a) provides that an injury or illness must be considered work-related if an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing condition, unless an exception in section 1904.5(b)(2) applies. Section 1904.5(b)(1) defines "work environment," in part, as "the establishment and other locations where one or more employees are working or are present as a condition of their employment." Also, as you note in your letter, when an employee is away from the establishment, the question in determining work-relatedness is whether the employee is engaged in work activities "in the interest of the employer" as set forth in section 1904.5(b)(6). Although 1904.5(b)(2) and 1904.5(b)(6) are not strictly interchangeable, as you inquire about in your letter, the two provisions complement one another to address instances both involving and not involving travel. On OSHA's recordkeeping webpage (www.osha.gov/recordkeeping), a frequently asked question (FAQ ID. 160) states as follows:
Q. Our company will be hosting a Family Fun Day next to the main office. Attendance is voluntary and employees are allowed to bring family members. If an employee gets injured and requires medical treatment would this be an OSHA recordable case?
A. Injuries that result solely from voluntary participation in recreational activities are generally not considered work-related.
This Q&A is similar to the facts described in your letter: both the
Q&A and your scenario describe fact patterns that involve employees performing purely voluntary activities. Accordingly, if
an injury results from the voluntary activity at the charitable organization described in your letter, the injury would not be considered work-related for purposes of OSHA recordkeeping. However, please keep in mind that such activity would likely be considered work-related if the activities at the charity are not purely voluntary or are conducted at the direction of the employer.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health.
OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our letters of interpretation do not create new or additional requirements but rather explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances.
This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed herein.”