Tampa, FL (WorkersCompensastion.com) – A Florida workers’ compensation court has come out with a decision that says a woman who was at a company bowling outing is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The claimant suffered an ankle injury and the court voted two-to-one in favor of the claimant, which overruled a lower court decision that denied benefits.
The decision invokes the doctrine of recreational activities and whether or not the claimant was in the course and scope of employment at the time of the industrial accident. As with any case involving the going and coming rule or questions regarding course and scope of employment, intense analysis must be done with respect to all relevant facts that could affect compensability.
In this case, the bowling outing occurred after work hours and there were other employees present from the claimant’s employer, Anixter Power Solutions. The court believed that the purpose of the event was to improve company morale, based on testimony from the claimant’s supervisor that they were discussing the company’s goals for the upcoming year.
Another key factor in this case was that the bowling activity was required by the employer. The claimant was also paid to attend the event. The way the court often looks at these cases is whether the employer received a benefit from what the claimant was doing. Here, the claimant was being made aware of the company’s goals so the goals could be furthered. The employer was also gaining the benefit of having employees become more of a cohesive group.
The dissent, however, took a different view. It said that the outing only produced an indirect benefit to the employer and that there was not enough evidence in the record to support the notion that the bowing event was required by the employer.
Sometimes the issue of whether a claimant is required to attend an off-premises event can be somewhat subjective. The court will look not only at whether there was any correspondence or statements made to the claimant that said it was mandatory, but also whether a reasonable person would have felt that they were compelled to attend the event by the employer.
Employers can take this case as a warning sign, when looking for ways to ensure that an employer-sponsored recreational activity is not covered under their workers’ compensation policy. Some steps to do so might include: 1) putting in writing that the event is not mandatory, 2) putting in writing that employees will not be paid for the event, 3) not discussing business or company issues, 4) allowing non-employees to attend the vent, 5) not having a set agenda or goals for the outing, 6) not allowing company vehicles or other equipment to be used at the event, 7) not having the event during business hours, 8) minimizing the amount of senior management who are present at the event, 9) not having the company be the organizer of the event and instead have it organized by someone from the company as a personal event.