An employee participates in an indoor relay race as part of a charity event during her unpaid lunch period. She slips on a streamer and injures her knee. Does she get workers’ comp benefits?
American Greetings Corp. sponsored a United Way fundraising event held in the company cafeteria during workers’ unpaid lunch hour. The event had been held annually for 15 years. Employee Sheila Bunch participated in a relay race.
Lanes for the race were marked with streamers on the floor. Bunch injured her knee when she slipped on a streamer.
(An interesting side note: In previous years, lanes for the race were marked with tape. Court records show they changed to the streamers because either management or the floor cleaning crew complained.)
Bunch applied for workers’ comp.
American Greetings argued that participation in the charity event during an unpaid lunch period was outside the course and scope of her employment. An administrative law judge agreed and dismissed Bunch’s claim.
On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Board reversed the decision and awarded Bunch comp benefits. The company appealed to a state court.
Under Kentucky law, this type of charity event qualifies as work-related if it meets any one of four conditions:
- It occurs on the premises, during a lunch or recreational period, as a regular incident of employment
- The employer brings the activity within the orbit of employment by expressly or impliedly requiring participation or by making the activity part of the service of the employee
- The employer derives substantial direct benefit from the activity beyond the intangible benefit of an improvement in employee health and morale that’s common to all kinds of recreation and social life, or
- The employer exerts sufficient control over the activity to bring it within the orbit of employment.
The court found that the injury was work-related because it occurred in the middle of Bunch’s work day during an unpaid lunch break when employees are more likely to remain on the employer’s premises and continue to be within the scope of their employment. There’s no argument that the event took place on company premises.
American Greetings argued that the charity event wasn’t a regular incident of employment because it only happened annually. It said for the event to be “regular,” it would have to take place more than once a year.
The court disagreed. It said once a year was enough to qualify as a regular event.
Decision: The court awarded Bunch workers’ comp benefits.
(American Greetings Corp. v. Bunch, Court of Appeals of KY, No. 2009-CA-001750-WC, 2/26/10.)
What do you think about the court’s decision? As a safety pro, would you want to be consulted about safety for a charity event such as an indoor relay race? Would this type of decision lead you to recommend that such events not be held at your facility? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.