Most people know that if they are injured while performing their job, they are eligible for workers’ compensation payments while they recover. But what happens when your injury occurs during a fun, company-sponsored event like a party or a company picnic? When does your employment end and your personal life begin?
The South Carolina Supreme Court recently weighed in on this topic, and found that a man injured during a company-sponsored kickball game was entitled to workers’ compensation, even though his injuries may have occurred during a voluntary game.
Stephen Whigham was the Director of Creative Solutions at a marketing firm in Greenville, South Carolina. Part of his job was to create an enjoyable atmosphere for the company and promote team-building events. In the course of his duties, he organized a company kickball game, and took care of the corresponding details, such as facility rentals, designing t-shirts, and promoting the event within the company.
While participating in the kickball game, Whigham landed awkwardly while jumping to avoid being tagged out. When he landed, he broke his tibia and fibula, requiring two surgeries on his leg. He will eventually need a knee replacement surgery as well.
After his injury, Whigham filed a workers’ compensation claim, but his benefits were denied on the grounds that his injury did not arise out of the course of his employment. Specifically, the workers’ compensation board found that he was not required to attend the event or play in the game. The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the board’s decision.
Supreme Court Case
On review, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the board and the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court found that there was a causal relationship between Whigham’s job duties and the injury he suffered while performing them.
In order to find that a recreational or social activity (like a kickball game) is within the course of a person’s employment, the Court looks at whether the activity meets one of the following three criteria:
- The activity occurs on company premises during a lunch or recreational period;
- The employer expressly or impliedly requires participation in the activity; or
- The employer derives a substantial benefit from the activity.
Whigahm argued that his injury made him eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under the second and third criteria of this test. The Supreme Court agreed.
In examining the law and the situation, the court said, “The law is clear that when determining whether an employee is required to attend an event a directive is not necessary ‘if the employee is made to understand that he is to take part in the affair.’” According to testimony from both Whigham and his supervisor, Whigham’s presence at the event was vital and expected. As the organizer of the kickball game, Whigham’s supervisor testified that he would have been shocked had he not shown up, and it would have been tantamount to a dereliction of duty.
Because both Whigham’s testimony and his supervisor’s testimony established that Whigham’s participation was expected rather than voluntary, his injury during the kickball tournament was part of his employment duties, and Whigham was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ Compensation Injuries Are Complicated
This situation was somewhat unique in that Whigham was the organizer of the kickball game. If another employee was injured during the game, the analysis would have been much different. In that situation, the Court might have found that the employee’s participation was voluntary and outside the scope of his or her employment.
If you have been injured at work, or while performing an activity related to your work, you may be eligible for workers compensation benefits. However, receiving benefits can sometimes be complicated, as the case above shows. If you or your loved one was injured, you need experienced representation to fight for your right to compensation. Call (866) 947-7449 to speak with the experienced South Carolina and Georgia workers’ compensation attorneys at The Eichholz Law Firm today.