This case shows how just one factor can make all the difference in whether an employee can receive workers’ comp for an injury suffered during a company recreational activity.
William Weller worked as a paralegal for Morris James LLP in Wilmington, DE. On June 10, 2015, Weller ruptured his Achilles tendon while playing on the Morris James employee softball team in a game sponsored by a league of local law firms.
Weller was out of work through Sept. 8, 2015 and applied for workers’ comp benefits. The insurance provider denied the claim. The Delaware Industrial Accident Board (IAB) found Weller’s injury occurred within the course and scope of his employment. Morris James appealed to the state Superior Court.
It turns out that in Delaware, there are two sets of standards to determine whether a recreational injury occurred within the course and scope of employment: one for company-sponsored events and another for non-company-sponsored events.
The problem in this case: The IAB used the wrong standard. Morris James didn’t sponsor the game in which Weller was injured, but the board used the standard for company-sponsored events.
For that reason, the Superior Court overturned the IAB decision. But the case isn’t over yet. Now it’s remanded to the IAB for a new ruling based on the proper standard.
The three factors the IAB will have to reconsider are whether:
- the event occurs on the premises during a lunch or recreation period as a regular part of employment
- the employer “brings the activity within the orbit of employment,” or
- the employer derives “substantial direct benefit from the activity beyond the intangible value of improvement in employee health and morale that is common to all kinds of recreation and social life.”
To be compensable, only one of the three factors has to apply.
The only one that could pertain to this case, according to the Superior Court, is the third. A Morris James manager testified, “the firm probably obtains a benefit through increased productivity of the players by having a firm team in the softball league.”
It appears Weller may have an uphill climb in proving his case. The Superior Court noted:
“It is unclear to the Court whether the Board would have found that its determination that the firm ‘probably’ benefits by increase productivity of the softball players, standing alone, would have met [the] substantial benefit test.”
(Morris James LLP v. William Weller, Superior Court of Delaware, No. N16A-05-006, 3/16/17)