Many companies sponsor recreational activities such as picnics and sports activities to help improve employee morale and promote good will in the workplace. Despite best efforts at implementing safety protocols, sometimes employees get hurt at these events. The good news is, in certain cases, your injury may be covered by workers' compensation. Here's more information about this and what you'll need to do to collect your benefits.
When Workers' Comp Will Pay
The primary purpose of workers' comp is to pay for injuries employees sustain in the course of performing their duties. A person can collect benefits from the program even if the individual is not at the workplace when he or she gets hurt. If the person was on the clock performing work for the company at the time the accident happened (e.g. making deliveries), he or she is typically able to file a successful claim for compensation.
However, this eligibility often ceases when an employee is hurt while engaged in a company sponsored recreational activity. This is because, most of the time, the employee's participation in the activity is voluntary. Since the person is there of his or her own free will and obtaining a perk that doesn't necessarily benefit the employer, workers' compensation will typically treat the situation as though the person was injured on his or her own time.
There are exceptions to this rule, though. Workers' compensation will pay your claim (or a court will rule in your favor) if you can prove the recreational activity fell within the realm of employment. For instance, the company has an annual Christmas party. In addition to employees, however, the company also invites customers to attend. If the employees are expected to interact with the customers in an official or professional capacity, then the employee could be seen as being on duty even though the party is a social event.
When determining whether or not your particular case qualifies for benefits, the court or the workers' compensation agency will look at several factors:
- Whether there was an explicit or implied impression that participation in the event was required
- Whether the activity occurred on the premises and/or during standard leisure periods permitted during the course of employment (e.g. during breaks)
- Whether the employer obtain any benefit from the employees participation in the activity
Any one or combination of these factors could result in an approval of benefits. For example, a Missouri employee was injured while playing basketball during a paid break. Because the employee was required to remain at work during breaks and the employer paid for the recreational period, the Missouri Appeals Court found the employee should be compensated for the injury because the employer benefited from having the person close by and able to return to work immediately after the break period ended.
Proving Your Case in Court
Unfortunately, many times these types of cases are ambiguous, and people who submit claims for injuries sustained during employer sponsored recreational events may be denied benefits because it isn't clear how the employer is at fault.
For instance, a California police officer was initially denied benefits when he hurt himself during a physical training session while on vacation. However, the California Court of Appeals ruled in his favor after determining that being physically fit was a requirement of the man's employment with the Beverly Hills Police department and that stopping his physical training during his vacation would go against the department's physical fitness policies.
To prove your case in court, therefore, you'll need to make a clear connection between the recreational activity and your job. For instance, you could show:
- That failing to participate in the activity would have had a negative impact on your wages or job opportunities (thus making it mandatory to attend)
- The activity was an integral part of your employment (e.g. staying in shape to pass a physical fitness test)
- The employer gained some type of benefit from your participation (e.g. joining a weekly brunch to network with potential customers)
- The employer had significant control or influence over your engagement in the activity that caused your injury (e.g. pressured you into racing a go-kart)
A case like this can be challenging to litigate. Therefore, you should consult with a workers' compensation attorney who can help you obtain the outcome you want. For more information about representation for a workers' comp case, visit http://www.nccompspecialist.com/.