What if you’re injured while playing softball at a company picnic? What about a teacher injured during a faculty vs. student basketball game at a pep rally? These types of situations are addressed by Section 11 of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, which states:
Accidental injuries incurred while participating in voluntary recreational programs including but not limited to athletic events, parties and picnics do not arise out of and in the course of the employment even though the employer pays some or all the costs thereof. This exclusion shall not apply if the injured employee was ordered or assigned by his employer to participate in the program.
Voluntary recreational activity claims are fact specific. Most of the decisions related to these claims look at the following circumstances surrounding the injury to determine whether the recreational activity was truly voluntary:
- Was the employee assigned or ordered to participate in the activity?
This question goes to whether your participation int the activity was truly voluntary. If you were told by your boss or a supervisor that you had to participate in a recreational activity such as a company softball game, then the activity is no longer voluntary. It is “ordered” or “assigned”. Now, the courts have engaged in some nitpicking over the difference between “ordered” and “assigned” but if you’ve got somebody above you telling you that you have to participate in an activity, any injuries you sustain as a result of that activity should be considered compensable.
- Was the activity “recreational”?
The court has looked to the Webster’s Third International Dictionary to determine what the word “recreational” means. Webster’s defined it as follows:
“The word recreational is derived from the word recreation. The word recreation in turn is defined as “the act of recreating or the state of being recreated; refreshment of the strength and spirit after toil; DIVERSION, PLAY.”
But sometimes, a person’s job may require him or her to engage in activities that might otherwise be deemed diversion or play. For example, a fitness supervisor who engaged in a game of wallyball with customers was found not to be doing so as an act of “diversion or play” but as part of his job at the Park District. If your job requires you to engage in activities that might otherwise be defined as “diversion or play”, don’t give up hope. There is a chance that if that activity is part of your job duties, then you could be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Even if you get hurt during a wallyball game!
- When did the activity take place?
If the activity takes place after work, you’re much less likely to be awarded workers’ compensation benefits than if it takes place during the workday. That doesn’t mean you can’t be ordered or assigned to engage in an activity after work hours, but how often is an after-hours event mandatory? Not very often for most workers.
- Where did the activity take place?
If the activity takes place at your place of employment, you are more likely to be awarded workers’ compensation benefits for injuries that occur while you are engaged in that activity. Fro example, if you’re at a company picnic at a park 5 miles away then that’s something your employer will use in order to persuade the court that the activity was not mandatory. If the activity takes place at your place of employment, it is much easier for the court to determine that the event was more likely mandatory than voluntary.
- Would the employee’s failure to participate result in the loss of a benefit? (Vacation Day / Personal Day)
If you stand to lose a benefit as a result of opting out of a work activity, then any injuries sustained during that activity will be deemed to be work related. If you are given the choice of attending the event, or taking a personal / vacation day, then that constitutes the loss of a benefit. So if your boss tells you that you can either attend the company picnic or you can take a vacation day, then that picnic is not a voluntary activity. If you’re hurt while playing Frisbee at that picnic, you should be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
- Would the failure to participate in the activity be noted on an employee evaluation?
Do people who do not attend company outings or functions get nasty notes in their evaluation report? If so, guess what? That can be a factor that the court will use to decide that the event was mandatory as opposed to voluntary.
- Was the employee subjected to pressure from colleagues or superiors to participate?
This can help tip the scales when it is a close call as to whether an event was voluntary or mandatory. The term “cajoling” has been thrown around in a few Commission decisions. So, if you’re subjected to “cajoling”, which is defined as “persuading someone to do something by sustained coaxing or flattery,” then this might help you to show that this company event wasn’t exactly voluntary. This alone isn’t going to win the day. You will also need to show other elements such as location or loss of a benefit to convince the Commission that the activity was mandatory.
If you have been injured in a recreational activity at work, don’t be surprised if the insurance carrier denies your claim. Don’t give up hope. Contact me for a free consultation to go over the specific circumstances of your case. You just might be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.