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Workers’ Compensation Case Study: Injury at a Company Event

By July 11, 2011August 22nd, 2018

This is an interesting case we can all relate to because it involves a company-sponsored recreational event. An employee was injured during the special event, not at the workplace performing work duties. Read on to learn if the courts awarded the employee workers’ compensation benefits.

The normal workweek for Danny Douglas was Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Douglas received an email at work on a Friday informing him of an all-expense paid event scheduled for that afternoon at a recreational facility where patrons can play games, eat, and race go-carts. The event was intended to thank its employees and to do “team building.” Even though employees could choose to either go to the event or stay at work and do their jobs, Douglas felt pressured to attend the event to demonstrate that he was “part of the team.”

Douglas arrived at the facility and during the meal the employees were assigned to teams while the company owner gave what Douglas viewed as a pep talk. Activities included the go-cart track and they were encouraged to race and to go as fast. Douglas was not inclined to race but did so because he wanted to be part of the team and prizes were awarded for the fastest time. Douglas testified that the racing “was meant to boost morale and boost sales to kind of energize the company.” During the race, Douglas had an accident and was ejected from his go-cart, striking his right side. His pain kept him from finishing the race but he remained at the event until 5:00 p.m. and received his normal pay for the day. After several visits for medical treatment over the next two weeks, he was operated on to remove fluid from a punctured lung due to a rib fracture. He was off work for a few weeks after the surgery and received his normal pay.

Douglas filed a workers’ compensation claim and an administrative law judge (ALJ) heard the case. After hearing testimony and depositions from a number of company principals and others who attended the event, the ALJ found that Douglas’ injury arose out of and in the course of his employment, that the claim was compensable, and awarded him benefits for a 15% work disability. The Board determined that Douglas felt pressured to attend the event, even though it had very good intentions. The Board modified the ALJ’s award to reflect a functional impairment instead of a work disability but otherwise affirmed it in all other respects.

The employer appealed and the appellate court found that the Board did not err in concluding that Douglas’ injury arose out of and in the course of his employment. They found that there was substantial evidence to support the Board’s finding that the employee was under some pressure to attend the employer-sponsored event. So, even if attendance at an employer-sponsored event is not mandatory, it does not necessarily mean that the employee is under no duty to attend it. The Board’s ruling was upheld and Douglas received Workers’ Compensation benefits.

The Flanders Group provides many special programs to help our clients manage their Workers Compensation risks, especially New York State employers in nursery/landscape, real estate, manufacturing, refuse, marina and RV/auto dealers. Contact us today and speak with a specialist to learn more, 800-462-6435.