It's common knowledge that if you are hurt when you are at your workplace or during the course of your employment, you are eligible for workers' compensation.
But what about cases in which an employee is hurt off the premises during a recreational activity that is intended to boost worker morale?
A recent case that ended up in the South Carolina Supreme Court suggested these kinds of activities may not be a good idea because injured workers are not necessarily eligible for workers' compensation.
The case of Whigham v. Jackson Dawson Communications entailed a plaintiff who filed a claim for Workers' Compensation benefits after he was injured during a kickball game that he organized for his employer.
The case raised difficult workers' compensation issues related to activities organized outside the workplace ranging from company meals and social events to team building sports games such as baseball or football.
A single commissioner denied Whigham's claim because she found that his injury did not arise out of or during the course of his employment. The full commission and the court of appeals affirmed the denial.
However, The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the decision and found that Whigham was eligible for worker's compensation under the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act. The decision relied on the so-called "Larson test" set forth in Larson's Workers' Compensation Law. The test states that social or recreational activities are within the course of employment and should, therefore, be covered under Workers' Compensation in a number of circumstances, namely:
- They occur on work premises during a lunch break or other recreational period;
- The employer expressly or impliedly seeks participation of workers by making the activity part of the employee's service;
- The employer derives a substantial benefit from the activity that goes beyond the intangible value of improving the health of the employee or a boost in morale which is common to recreation and social life generally.
The Supreme Court looked at the second factor in the Larson test. It found that Whigham's employer impliedly made the kickball event a part of his services. The court reasoned that Whigham, who advocated the kickball event to build company morale, felt that he was, therefore, required to attend it as part of his services to the company, bringing the game within the scope of his employment.
Although the case establishes the fact Workers' Compensation liability may extend to injuries that employees suffer during recreational events, it's far from clear cut.
Workers' compensation coverage allows you to file a claim without having to prove that your employer or a co-worker caused your accident through negligence. However, a claim is not always straightforward and an insurance company or employer might seek to curtail your benefits. Our Columbia workers' compensation attorneys will seek to make the process as easy as possible and help you recover what you deserve. Call us today at 803.748.9990.