With work holiday party season upon us, a recently decided case can be very important to employers. Yesterday, the First District Court of Appeals overturned a workers compensation judge’s order denying work comp benefits to an employee who sustained injury while bowling with co-workers during regular working hours. So, in this case, yes, bowling with co-workers is covered under Florida workers’ compensation law. However, the ruling does indicate that with just a small twist of facts, it could not be covered.
In yesterday’s decided case, Karen Reynolds attended the bowling event during her paid work shift and injured her ankle. She filed a workers’ compensation claim that was denied by the carrier. The case went before the Judge of Compensation Claim who concluded that the bowling event was a “recreational activity” and that Ms. Reynolds’ injury was not compensable. Ms. Reynolds’ attorney appealed.
Florida law addresses what recreational or social activities are covered under Florida workers compensation law. Section 440.092(1), Florida Statutes, provides:
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.
The testimony in the case showed that the bowling event was during regular work hours, the employer paid employees who attended the event, and Ms. Reynolds was not told she could have remained at work or taken a vacation day rather than attend the event. No other alternative was offered by the employer. The employer testified that the purpose of the event was to improve morale and to discuss “some of our goals for the next year.”
The Court determined that no reasonable person in Ms. Reynold’s position would have believed that the activity was not a required incident of employment. In addition, the Court found that the testimony of the employer established that there was a substantial and direct benefit to the employer beyond simply improving employee morale and health. As a result, the appellate court determined that Ms. Reynolds’ injury sustained while bowling was compensable under section 440.092(1), because the activity was an expressly required incident of employment and it produced a substantial direct benefit to the employer beyond improvement in employee health and morale.
Employers, as you plan your holiday parties, think about this case. If you don’t want to be responsible for injuries that occur to your employees, make sure it is clear that all employees understand that attendance at the party is voluntary. Tell your employees that if they do not want to come, they can remain at work or take vacation time rather than attend the event. Also, make sure the party’s purpose remains to improve morale.
Attorneys Matthew Noyes and Lorrie Robinson help employees who are injured in work related accidents. If you have questions after a workers’ compensation accident, call Attorney Matthew Noyes at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.