Safety and OSHA News

Was volleyball part of his job? Hurt worker files for comp


An employee is injured while playing volleyball. He files for workers’ comp, saying it was part of his job. His employer disagrees, saying it wasn’t part of his tasks. Does the employee in this case get comp?

Here are the details:

Sean Murphy worked at a fitness facility as a fitness supervisor.

One day while at work, a co-worker asked him to participate in a game of wallyball (volleyball on a racquetball court).

At first he declined, but the co-worker, who wasn’t his supervisor, insisted, saying without him, the game couldn’t go forward “because they didn’t have enough people to participate.”

He agreed to play, and when he jumped up to block a shot, he came down and injured his right leg.

He underwent surgery to repair a fracture.

Since one of his duties was to promote and implement the classes and programs that his employer offered, he filed for workers’ comp.

An arbitrator awarded him comp benefits. The employer appealed for these reasons:

  • Murphy had no duties in the racket sports department
  • Wallyball wasn’t within Murphy’s responsibilities
  • His supervisor never ordered or directed him to play or participate
  • The center had a policy prohibiting employees from playing while they were on duty, and
  • Playing wallyball was a voluntary recreational activity.

A state court upheld Murphy’s comp benefits, saying his participation in the game “clearly benefited the business of operating a health facility and [Murphy] clearly believed the activity was part of his work duties.”

The court said Murphy’s situation was similar to that of a pro athlete: Recreational activity was part of his job.

What’s your opinion of the court’s decision? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

Cite: Elmhurst Park District v. Sean T. Murphy, Appellate Court of IL, No. 07-MR-947, 10/6/09. (PDF)

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  1. So in Illinois if you are participating in a prohibited activity while on the clock, in a separate department from your own, you can be awarded work comp benefits. To paraphrase Yakov Smirnov – What a State!

    One of the sad things about this case is that the court used as evidence the fact that he was not reprimanded by the company for his participation in the game. I’m sure the thought crossed someone’s mind, only to be quickly pushed out by sympathetic feelings that he had already suffered enough. This guy sounds like a real schmuck to have been able tell the judge with a straight face that he thought his playing in the game was just out of duty to his beloved employer.

  2. S. Larison says:

    Just goes to show you that employees do not have an obligation to follow the rules of employment and the appeals gurus agree.

  3. As a former employer, I see why he filed for work comp. On the other hand, he had no business being there in the first place. This is a prime example of what the corruption of the judicial system does to employers. It intially has sided with the employee, even though the emloyee was not supposed to be playing outside of his own “realm” of working. Secondly, the court justified and basically stated that people need to act like robots and follow a strict guideline without ever being held accountable for their own actions. By this I am saying that if you as an employer, do not have a guideline with timeline, individuals can go outside of what they are supposed to be doing, and you as the employer are still held accountable. I do understand that the employer is held accountable for the actions of its employees, yet at the same time, employees should be held accountable for their actions when they do not function where they are supposed to.

    What this employer and all others need to do is make sure that a clause is set in place, like the 5(a)(1) General Duties Clause, stating that if you act and attempt to work outside of what your job description states as your workspace, then you are held responsible for your own actions.

    It is just pathetic that people are not held accountable for what they do when they are at work. Out in public, you cannot sue a city for having a crappy road if you are walking down it and sprain your ankle. If you get intoxicated and leave a bar, walk down the street and trip, fall, and knock out a tooth, who is held responsible for that then. Even if you are not intoxicated and you walk out of the house, down your sidewalk and fall and hurt yourself, you are held responsible. Maybe you didn’t want the sidewalk installed, the city did, and they put it in and charged you for it. Furthermore, you are responsible to maintain and keep it clear of debris, because if you don’t, you will get fined for it and if someone gets hurt while on your sidewalk, you can be sued for that too.

    The list goes on and there are so many catch 22 factors involved. It seems that no one takes the blame anymore for their actions, it is just easier to pass the buck off on someone else. So, to the guy who got hurt and to the court who sided with him, thanks a lot for helping make the “system” that much more corrupt. We all appreciate it!!! How do you people sleep at night anyway?

  4. Mark Mefferd says:

    The employee was on the clock and at the companies facility. It seems pretty clear cut to me.

  5. Almost forgot………The court said that his situation was similar to that of a pro athelete……..But the funny thing is, is that the guy is NOT A PRO ATHELETE!!!! If a pro athelete decides to play a game voluntarily, he cannot get workers comp because he volunteered. So did the guy in this case. HE VOLUNTEERED!!! Again the key word is “VOLUNTEERED” V-O-L-U-N-T-E-E-R-E-D

  6. Yet another example of how to stick it to the employer. An employee makes a decision and the employer pays the price. I guess the good news is if this keeps up we won’t have to worry about these judgments anymore as there will not be any private sector employers left, problem solved.

  7. John Shanahan says:

    Murphy should have to use his insurance and pay the damn co-pay or out-of-pocket residuals like all the rest of us. Damn this “Massachusetts” mindset that someone owes you when you’re ill or get hurt or are just too damn ignorant to get ahead! And…when these whining bastards don’t get their way, they try to get big hope & change government to force people to pony up the funds for their misfortunes! While lifting weights, I ripped my tendon away from my damn humorous bone and KNEW I was in for a whole bunch of pain and economic heartache! (That’s why the torrent of curses still echo off the walls at that gym to this day!) Hey Murph, suck it up and quit using the parasitic legal system crammed full of milk-toast liberal, estrogen laced judges to extract money from those that earn it (either by actually working, or putting up with gut-wrenching risk, or both). We’re all so screwed!

  8. This is ridiculous. “The center had a policy prohibiting employees from playing while they were on duty.” So he violated company policy when he decided to play in the game. How can the courts consider his participation benefiting the company when it goes against company policy? He could have tried to get members to join the game instead of doing it himself. This is yet another bad decision by the arbitrator and the court system.

  9. Frank Lucas says:

    Years ago while working for a major fortune 500 company in upstate NY, I was a member of an enitirely voluntary corporate softball team that played against other companies in an industrial league. I was injured in a game (broken ankle) played after hours on the company property. I did not even file for comp, never thinking about it. A year later I was surprised to get a letter from the state comp board instructing me to report to a hearing, where I was awarded a 15% permanent disability, despite being completely healed and already back playing sports. Imagine my surprise when a check for over $5k came in the mail, and my company confirmed is was legit for me to cash it and keep the money. Woo-Hoo! I now consider that for a brief shining moment, I was a professional athlete! many years later, the company finally disbanded all recrreational intramural sports (volleyball, touch football, etc.) when they realized what it was costing them to subsidize all the injured weekend warriors.

    My story illustrates that at least in NY, the ruling is correct whether or not it makes any real sense. The only criteria that matters in this case are that the injury occurred on company property and the activity was at least tacitly sponsored or condoned by the company, through awarenes and allowance at a minimum. Nothing else about the job responsibilities or other mitigating circumstances really matters.

  10. That’s how it is here in Illinois. It does not matter what your company policy is or that the employee was negligent, the company is always at fault. Between this and the taxes, jobs are leaving at an alarming rate.

  11. Mark Z brought up the pro athlete comparison that the court used. The stupid thing about that part of the opinion is that pro athletes are generally not eligible for work comp. The guys in sports with guaranteed contracts will get their money until their contract runs out. If there is no guarantee, then they are out of luck.

    Even if they were eligible, a basketball player would not be able to claim any kind of connection to his career of a volleyball game. This guy wasn’t paid to be a walley ball player!

  12. I have employees on the clock and they’re at my companies facility, but if I told them to NOT touch that high voltage system – wait until the electricians get here – and he did anyway and got hurt (or worse) why should I be blamed and held accountable. This employer had a policy to NOT play ANY games while at work. There was a reason for that policy – they might get hurt!!!!! DUH!!

  13. There are some apparent underlying issues here. While on the surface it appears that he was violating company policy it may be that the policy was required by the workers comp provider’s loss control. In several decades as a safety professional I have seen policies put in place to “protect” the employer and this has the appearance of just that.

    Most job descriptions also have verbage somewhere like “Perform other duties as required.” I personally have performed many tasked, supervised many projects, and administered many contracts in my career the did not appear in my job description. To my employer’s credit, the ones that recurred consistently were added with an increase in compensation at the next update.

    I don’t think this newsletter article gives enough information to make an intelligent determination whether the arbitrator made the correct decision. I would want to see workers comp provider loss control reports and recommendations, official written job decriptions from the company, personnel policies from the company including disciplinary procedures, OSHA 300 logs, and any other pertinent documentation. If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen!

    Bottom Line: Don’t judge too hastily without good information! I don’t think there’s enough information in this article to make a call either way.

  14. Frank Lucas says:

    I should add that the the case would have upheld even if not on company property – obviously many of the games were played at other company sites and neutral fields. The only real criteria are
    1. was the injured person employed by the company at the time of injury and,
    2. did the company have knowledge of and allow the the activity to occur, in any (even loosely) sponsored relationship whatsoever. The simple act of having a court or a ballfield on premises is also considered tacit sponsorship of the activitiy by employees.

  15. there will always be people like this looking for a free ride.

  16. My question is, did the employee sign a waiver to receive compensation for any injury occurred at the facility. I know a lot of health clubs are requiring that of their members. Wallyball being a more aggressive sport as oppose to weightlifting, the risk of injury is greater. The co-worker was negligent in pressuring the employee into doing something that he knew was not correct in the first place. The employee is there to promote the facility, but seeing how this was a “pick up game” and not a SCHEDULED activity, how is it promoting the facility? Was it advertised? Was it a regularly scheduled game that was short players? I think the worker’s comp program needs to be revised. Instead of pay or not pay, injured worker should pay that percentage that they are responsible for. In this case, 50/50.

    Injuries while playing sports are closing gymnasiums around the country. In order for a team to host a sporting event anyway, they have to have a $2 million insurance policy. And that was as of 10 years ago. It may be higher now.

    I’m waiting to hear the worker’s comp case for the usual paper cut.

  17. There seem to be conflicting parts to the story, and I can see both sides. If one of his duties was “to promote and implement the classes and programs that his employer offered,” I wonder how his employer would have reacted if he had NOT played.

    Would his employer have thought it was OK to play afterwards if he had not been injured? Chances are, they would have thought it was fine, and called him a “team player.” But since he was injured, now they want to bring up policy… Just seems like too many parts are left out of the story.

  18. When our the courts going to start holding the employee accountable for his/her actions…and we wonder why companies our outsourcing, give me a break.

  19. T. Logan – There is plenty of information here to judge this case. Why does it matter if an insurance policy was the reason for banning employees from playing in leagues while on the clock? There are obvious reasons why a business would want their employees to work while they are being paid, but what if you are right about the reason? He still was participating in a prohibited activity – not some “other duties as requested” activity.

    Frank Lucas – Having a court is evidence of sponsorship of the activity??? This is a fitness center for goodness sakes! If he gets hurt helping someone with weights, or refereeing a basketball game that could be part of his job. Having something on site does not give employees free reign to use it without consequence. Don’t believe me? Try looking up inappropriate (porn) web sites on a work computer. You’ll get canned for misuse of company resources in a heartbeat.

  20. Lynn Corrall says:

    The key here is the fact that he was furthering his companies business as indicated by the court that his activities “clearly benefited the business of operating a health facility and [Murphy] clearly believed the activity was part of his work duties.” Had this been after hours or on a day when he was not working it would have been done on a voluntary basis! This is why workers’ compensation costs companies so much!

  21. The phrase “to promote and implement the classes” is a very broad statement and needs to be explained in more detail. I believe the employer DID detail it more by stating “The center has a policy that PROHIBITS employees from playing while they are on duty. It just doesn’t get much clearer than that. Shame on the courts for punishing ANOTHER company for trying to do right in America.

  22. Frank Lucas says:

    Thanks for reiterating the obvious OPINION. If you read my comments more carefully, I am only suggesting that the ruling is correct based on current workers comp legislation and consistent interpetation in effect. I am not offering an opinion, as you and many others here are; I am sticking to current facts of law.
    My OPINION is the same as yours and others – that the current system is ridiculous and should be reformed. But until it is, I’m sticking to my guns – The ruling was correct.

  23. Wow so I can pick up a couple of extra bucks by putting my geriatric self out into harms way on one of the company sports teams. Cool where do I sign up…I’ve never been considered an athlete before. I think the most bang for the buck will be full contact football or rugby. That should supplement my income just fine. That whole court system reeks of corruption and ignorance.

  24. Apparently, the wrong assumption here is to assume that we are dealing with a reasonable adult. Anyone who can think for themselves would have all the reason they would need (based on the information given) to “just say no.”

    If he really didn’t want to play, as he claims, how could he let a peer level fellow employee “force him into playing.” If he was on a beach and was faced with the same kind of pressure for a beach volleyball game because they didn’t have enoough players without him, either he would have felt the right to say no, or if he said yes and got similarly hurt he would have had no choice but to do the right thing, be a man and take personal responsibility for your personal decisions.

    Way to go Illinois. Just proves that California is not the only state that is totally slanted towards the “rights” of individuals to be released, supposedly legally, from responsibility for the consequences of their own actions.

  25. As is often the case with these descriptions, some crucial info is missing. Was the game one that other employees mainly or alone were participating in or was it a game for customers of the fitness center. If the latter was the case so that his participation was necessary in order for the center to be able to provide the services they were contracted to provide for their customers then he was clearly not “playing” but rather on the job & workers comp was justified. If it was a bunch of employees on break then that it a totally different matter.

  26. I don’t know how many of you play volleyball, but it takes minimum of 2 people on each side to make a game. Therefore, the employee who coerced his co-worker to play is negligible. The game could have gone on without his participation if they had 4 people.

  27. Lets change the situation around a little. Say Murphy worked at a fast food restaurant. His job duties required him to flip burgers and do light maintenance as requested by his manager. One day an attractive female customer is in the restaurant waiting for a date who does not show up. Her problem will be solved if someone will just eat dinner with her. Murphy’s coworker at the cash register suggests that he grab a burger and eat with her, since his shift is off in a few minutes. It’s customer service – this will make her visit there much happier. He does so, and while taking a drink starts to choke when some of it goes down the wrong pipe. He winds up in the hospital with lung problems.

    My little story may seem farfetched, but is the principle any different? When you stop working, workers comp should not apply. As a participant in a sports league he should have been entitled to the same level of protection as any other participant (probably none unless negligence could be proven). Accidents and freak injuries happen in sports.

  28. If I am a checker at the local grocery store and while on my way to break the butcher asks me to give him a hand wrapping beef for a large order that’s going to be picked up in two minutes… and I slip and fall?
    Just because this isn’t my regular place of responsibility doesn’t mean that I’m not working in the best interest of my company. I agree with the findings.
    Oh yeah. He actually is a pro athlete. he gets paid to be an athlete, it is his profession. maybe he’s not famous or rich – but a pro athlete he is.

  29. I find it interesting that people are comparing this to a pro athlete. Don’t pro athletes carry their own health insurance to cover the possibility of an injury they do during the course of their job. Slipping and falling on a butcher’s floor is entirely different than playing wallyball. Slipping is a result of an involuntary action. His action was voluntary as he choose to block. Professional athletes voluntarily put themselves in harms way. Every sporting competition I’ve been in or my children have been in, I’ve had to sign a waiver with regards to injury. My dad was a physical director. He never got paid to play. He got paid to instruct. When he wanted to play, it was on his own time. And he got injured, but he was never compensated.
    Lawyers, insurance companies, and whiners are really ruining this country.

  30. This reminds me of a past employee of mine. He spent many years as a carpenter/concrete worker working under the table. I hired him and his partner and made special considerations for his past knee injury. This was all documented by my bookkeeper. During his employment he and his partner would take time off to finish an ongoing project, all work under the table with no insurance. Two years later he and his partner asked for time off again. I did not know it was to do a concrete retaining wall and roof work. He severely hurt his knee on this job and came back to work and filed for disability. His claim was upheld. I appealed but was told I was told by Workmans comp that even if he had gone skiing and hurt his knee, once he came back to the job he would be eligible. I felt like a fool for even hiring him in the first place. The employer cannot win with decisions like that.

  31. The employee is eligible to collect on worker’s comp because he was on the clock and/or on company property. However, the employee should be fired for violating company policy, provided that the company handbook states that violations of company policies will result in dismissal. However, that would bring on a civil suite. The employer gets to pay, but he doesn’t have to forget. In other words, no more promotions and wait for the next violation.

  32. The butcher comment would never happen as that would be a conflict with the Union and only butchers can work in their departments. If the company policies are well documented and the employee has been trained on the policies, the employee is in the wrong. If he was never trained, then it is the companies fault. Also, no promotions and waiting for violations will get you a retaliation lawsuit. You have to make sure you are consistent with your write ups for everyone or you’ll just be asking for more trouble.

  33. If the employee [Murphy] clearly believed the activity was part of his job, then why did he decline the first time he was asked? Just a thought.

  34. I can’t help but to think of the young man who worked at McDonald’s, was on the clock and intervened when a young girl and her boyfriend had an altercation in the restaurant. He tried to break it up and was shot by the boyfriend. McDonald’s refused to pay workers comp because they said his job duties did not include him going to that length to protect a patron. He was told he should have just called the police and stayed out of it. That made me cry. Guess it’s just better to look the other way.

  35. Frank.. I wish I would have had my worker’s compensation injury in NY and not WI.

    I was working in the deli, cleaning the meat slicer and cut a piece of my thumb off; they did not have the proper PPE in the store. The store did not call an ambulance, pack the piece of my thumb on ice and we even got lost on the way to the hospital and had to stop at a gas station to ask directions. Seven surgeries, the final being partial amputation (2/3) of the distal portion of my thumb, and 11 years later I received a worker’s compensation settlement of $6,000. Since this was a workers comp claim I could not sue in civil court, therefore; no compensation for pain and suffering.

  36. Brian Akers says:

    The question is were their clients of the facility playing at the time, or was this just a game between the staff members? If Mr. Murphy was needed to filll in in order to fulfill an obligation to their customers then it should not matter that it was not his area of expertise because he was promoting the organization that he was working for. CUSTOMER SATISFACTION.

  37. Unfortunately, in my State, Idaho, this would probably be compensible. Our Regs state an injury that “arises out of” the employee’s work is compensible. If the employee “thought” he was playing to support an activity of the employer that would have been good enough. In fact, anyone that slips in our parking and injures themselves would be covered. Now, mind you, how that complys with “rising out of” the employee’s work is a mystry to me. Idaho is a extremely conservative State, so I have no idea how that type of injury made it through the rules. Probably through the court system as noted in the other posts. Our appeals district is located in San Francisco, no need to say more about that………..

  38. I am not a medic nor a doctor, nurse, or anything considered professional. But if asked to take a temperature of an employee because he is feeling sick and I catch the H1N1 viris I am eligable for WC benifits because I was asked to do so and was working in the best interest of my company. Doesn’t matter if it was my boss or coworker who asked.
    Keep this in mind:
    One of his duties was to promote and implement the classes and programs that his employer offered.
    He was fulfilling one of his duties.

  39. Tom Brill: NO you’re not. H1N1 is a communicable disease and it is your obligation to prove that you contracted H1N1 from that exposure. You will never be able to prove that.

    Jill: I am sorry you were injured. What PPE would have prevented your injury – gloves? You had a pitiful lawyer.

    SafeT: You’re entitled to work comp.

    Mark Mefferd: With that mindset, I’m glad you’re not in charge of my worker’s comp premiums.

    Does “promote and implement” the programs offered by his employer include “participate” in them? Thre is the question Dear Watson.

  40. I’m with Greg and Mark. My understanding of NJ law is that if the employee is playing after hours sports, not on company property, but wearing a uniform with company name or logo; it’s wc. The theory is that the company is getting free advertising.
    The guy worked for a SPORTS center for heavens sake; injuries will happen. My guess: it probably wasn’t the first time he was asked to work outside “his” department. Spells team player to me.

  41. Safety King says:

    I have friends who work at fitness facilities and they are not always in the same location. It is possible to shift people around often. He was a fitness supervisor and some duties of a supervisor are to ensure collaboration and upkeep of morale. If this game would do that he would be obligated by that sense of duty. Who better to show how the game is played than a fitness supervisor? I think the ruling was fair and justified. Had he not been injured I’m sure everyone would be talking about how great a game it was. Is it unusual for a fitness supervisor to be approached and asked how to operate a piece of equipment? He may not use it often or be in a different department but as a supervisor he can demonstrate. If demonstration at that point causes self injury, would there be a problem there? As a supervisor he was instructing…so I think this falls under his scope of responsibility if not directly, indirectly…

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