Florida workers’ compensation can be tricky. What if you get hurt at an employer-sponsored and paid-for Halloween party, Christmas party or company picnic? Are you entitled to workers’ compensation benefits? Well, a few days ago, a workers’ compensation judge in Orlando shed some light on this subject. Here are the facts of that case:
A sales associate and pawnbroker with EZ Corp. Inc. went to a company sponsored Christmas dinner in 2013 and injured his left knee while dancing. We would not have been dancing but for the Christmas dinner.
Under Florida law, in order to be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, an injured worker must prove an “accident.” An “accident” is defined in workers’ compensation law as only an unexpected or unusual event or result that happens suddenly. If you have an accident while working, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The fact that you were not doing your regular job at the time of the accident does not preclude an injured worker from work comp benefits.
Under Florida workers’ compensation law, an injured worker can be entitled to work comp benefits if he or she is injured during employment-related recreational or social activities. However, Section 440.092(1) states that “Recreational or social activities are not compensable unless such recreational or social activities are an expressly required incident of employment and produce a substantial direct benefit to the employer beyond improvement in employee health and morale that is common to all kinds of recreation and social life.” So, what about our dancing pawnbroker?
In the Judge of Compensation Claims Order, he noted that the store manager decided to do something different for the store’s Christmas party. She decided to make arrangements for her store to go to a sit down restaurant and celebrate away from the office. She organized a Christmas dinner for all employees and their spouses or significant others at Bahama Breeze Restaurant. No employee attending the Christmas dinner had to pay or contribute any money and all food and refreshments were provided by the employer. The dinner began around 8:00 that evening and ended around 11:00 or 11:30 pm. A band was performing at the restaurant and some of the employees including the claimant participated in dancing. Towards the end of the employer’s Christmas party, the claimant informed his employer that his left knee was bothering him and that he was leaving.
Of note, the store employees did not get paid to show up for the dinner. Neither were they punished for not attending it. Also of importance was that there was not full participation at the Christmas dinner by all of the employees; there were no discussions about work at the dinner; no customers or clients of the pawn stores were invited to the dinner or attended same; and no advertising of the event was communicated to the public at large. The manager testified that there was no other business purpose for the gathering other than to do something different and nice for the employees for the holidays. The injured employee agreed that the Christmas party was just fellowship with the employees of the stores.
The injured worker initially did not believe his medical care was covered under workers’ compensation, but his doctors told him that they had to discontinue treatment because claimant had reported hurting his knee at an employer sponsored dinner or party. The doctors allegedly told him that they could not give him further medical help until he applied to workers’ compensation because it sounded like a workers’ compensation situation. The claimant testified in deposition that no doctor wanted to see him because they did not know if workers’ compensation was going to cover it.
After a Final hearing, the Judge of Compensation ruled that it was NOT covered under workers’ compensation. In reaching this conclusion, he ruled that although the employer encouraged the employees to attend the dinner, attendance was voluntary. In addition, the Judge found that the injured worker failed to prove that the Christmas dinner produced a substantial benefit to the employer beyond improvement in employee morale. For these reasons, the Judge determined that this injured worker was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
This case illustrates how muddy the Florida workers’ compensation law can be. Even the doctors thought it was covered under workers’ compensation and would not treat the injured worker because of it. If you are injured at work and unsure if you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, I strongly recommend you immediately consult with an attorney who understands the Florida workers’ compensation law. Failure to do so could result in the denial of workers compensation benefits.
Attorney Matthew Noyes represents those injured in workers’ compensation claims as well as car accidents, motorcycle crashes, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents and other types of personal injury matters. His Clearwater law firm – Perenich Caulfield Avril Noyes – is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Pinellas County. Call Attorney Matthew Noyes now at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.