June 2017 Essay Topic: “If an employee is involved in an activity like a company softball game, a company
dodge ball game, or any other company related extracurricular activity with the
company and they are hurt, should they be eligible for worker’s compensation?
Why or why not?”
Writer: Daniel Kim
Many organizations, no matter how small, hold activities to motivate and thank
their staff. These employer sponsored extracurricular activities are meant to foster a
better working environment among its employees. These activities are often considered
a reward for hard work. However, when employees are injured during these activities,
employers have a responsibility to compensate the workers to a reasonable degree.
Legally, employers are only required to compensate workers when they injured at
events that are deemed mandatory and part of the job. While lawyers could find a way
out of compensating the employees, most likely this action would belie the original
purpose of rewarding the employees by disincentivizing the participation of
extracurricular activities and giving the impression that the company does not care
about the wellbeing of its employees.
While most extracurricular activities sponsored by the company are presented
as rewards where attendance isn’t mandatory, employees sometimes sacrifice benefits
in order to get out of attending. While the event itself may not be mandatory, there is
pressure and expectation that the employee should attend. This gives the employee
legal ground to argue that the activities was implied to be mandatory. For example, in
the Woodrum v. Industrial Commission case of 2003, an employee was injured while
playing basketball at an company-sponsored extracurricular activity. The employee had
the option of attending the picnic, with pay, take a vacation day, or go without pay.
While the employee wasn’t forced to play basketball nor attend the extracurricular
activity, by forcing an employee to choose between participating in the extracurricular
activity or use vacation time, the employer essentially made the activity mandatory.
Thusly, court determined the injury was compensable.
Besides the stronger teamwork fostered at these activities, businesses also
benefit making business connection that ultimately help their business. While the event
itself may not be technically considered part of an employee’s responsibilities, when it
directly benefits the employer and is strongly encouraged, injured employees should be
eligible for worker’s compensation. For example in the 1987 case of Schooley v.
Industrial Commission, an employee was injured during a company sponsored softball
game. Unlike the 2003 case in which the employee had to choose between sacrificing
a benefit and attending the activity, in this case, the employee was allowed to leave
work early for practice without any monetary penalty. However, the law firm benefited
from John’s participation in the softball league by increasing business connections.
While accidental injuries at voluntary extracurricular activities are excluded by section
11 of the Workers’ Compensation Act, if the employee participated in an event with a
tangible benefit to the employer, he is eligible for worker’s compensation. While the
purpose of a company sponsored extracurricular activity might not be business related,
most social events often involve the fostering of business relationships, which benefit
the employers in the long run.
When an employer pays for and supervises an event, it’s inherent purpose is to
boost the employee’s morale. Companies should consider the possibility of an
employee getting injured as part of the cost of having a company sponsored
extracurricular activity. This is because if employees have to worry about who would
pay for the medical costs if they are injured, there is no point of utilizing company
resources to organize these activities in the first place. An employee would not feel that
the company cares about them and treats them as lower job satisfaction. For both
legal and logical reasons, employees should be given compensation for their injuries
generally, although each case should be evaluated based on the facts of the case.