Imagine this: A company sponsors a Family Fun night of bowling for its employees and their families to improve morale. One employee injures his back while bowling. Does he get workers’ comp because this was an employer-sponsored event?
If you’ve read up on workers’ comp cases, you may have already guessed that the answer is yes, he did get comp.
And it’s cases like this one that are prompting states to rewrite their comp laws. Tennessee just did.
In this particular case, Robert Powell, a Cedar Rapids Gazette employee, was one of 75 workers who participated in a family night of bowling sponsored by his employer.
The day after the event, he felt pain in his back and left leg. He underwent two rounds of surgery. He was placed on disability, but later lost his job because of a dispute over whether he was able to work, according to an article in the Des Moines Register.
Four years later, the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner awarded Powell more than $100,000 in benefits.
The commissioner pointed to a Supreme Court ruling that says if activities that led to an injury were for the benefit of the employer, or for the mutual benefit of the employer and worker, they should be treated as work-related.
So, should you cancel that employee picnic or your softball team? Employers get in trouble when:
- employee attendance is expected
- the event takes place during normal work hours
- uniforms promoting the company are worn, or
- transportation is provided to the event.
About one in four states have taken legislative action to limit workers’ comp awards for injuries that happen at company-sponsored events.
Tennessee’s governor signed one such piece of legislation into law in June. The new law states, “No compensation shall be allowed for an injury due to the employee’s voluntary participation in recreational, social, athletic or exercise activities (including, but not limited to, athletic events, competitions, parties, picnics and exercise programs) whether or not the employer pays some or all of the costs thereof.”
There are four exceptions:
- required participation
- participation that benefits the company in ways other than employee health or morale
- events during work hours that are part of work duties, and
- injuries due to an unsafe condition during voluntary participation using facilities designated by, furnished by or maintained by the employer, and the company had knowledge of the unsafe condition.
Should employers have to pay for employees’ injuries during company-sponsored recreational events? Let us know in the Comments Box below.