Love ’em or hate ’em, team-building and recreational activities at work are sometimes part of the job. Softball teams, company picnics, bowling nights, fitness clubs, and other activities might be offered to allow employees to socialize, decompress, connect, and have fun. But what if you are injured while participating in an event? Are you responsible for your own medical bills? Will you be given time off to recuperate? And what about workers’ comp? If you must be off work for more than a week because of your injury, will you be able to file a claim for workers’ comp benefits?
These are excellent questions, and the answer to them all is—it depends. In Ohio, most optional, off-site activities with coworkers are not considered in the “course and scope of employment,” so any injuries sustained while participating would not be covered by workers’ comp. However, if you believed that the activity was not entirely optional or the activity took place on company property or during work hours, you might be in a unique situation. We consider some possible situations where a recreational injury might be covered by workers’ comp.
Determining Employer Involvement in a Recreational Activity
If an activity is organized by employees and happens off company property, it’s very unlikely that the employer would be held accountable for injury claims. Softball teams are a good example of this. Another example would be a group of coworkers who meet at lunch to walk around an office park. If one of them trips and falls, they could use their health insurance to cover treatment, but they would not have a workers’ comp claim.
It’s a little trickier to determine when workers’ comp does apply. Here are a few factors that could play a role in determining when you might have a claim:
- Participation is required. If you must participate in the activity, it could be considered in the course and scope of employment, even if it occurs off-site or after hours. An example of this could be a required wellness program that requires you to log hours of exercise to be eligible for health insurance.
- The company organized and paid for the activity. If a company sponsors a softball team, pays fees, provides uniforms, restricts participation to employees, and uses the team in marketing campaigns, employees who play on the team could be seen as participating in a work activity.
- The activity took place on company property. Picnics, fairs, charity fundraisers, races, holiday parties, or other events that take place in the building or on the grounds could open the employer up to all kinds of liability, including workers’ comp claims.
- Clients or customers are present. Social events that include potential or existing clients or customers could also be considered work-related events, even if employees are told that participation is optional. If you feel pressured to participate to protect your job security or make a sale, you could have a case for a workers’ comp claim if you are injured at the event.
- Employees who participate are rewarded. Likewise, if employees who participate in allegedly optional activities are routinely promoted, given bonuses, or treated favorably in other ways, perhaps the activity is—in practice—required and should be considered in the course and scope of employment and covered by workers' comp.
Workplace recreational injuries and workers’ comp is a murky area. If you were injured while participating and have missed multiple weeks of work, it’s worth running your situation by a workers’ comp attorney to determine whether you have a claim.
Injuries You Could Sustain in a Work-Related Recreational Activity
Fun and games are not always fun and games! Typical injuries sustained in recreational and fitness activities—particularly by people who are not normally active—include:
- Sprains and strains. These are common injuries that involve stretching or tearing ligaments (sprains) or muscle or tendons (strains). These can happen during sudden movements, overexertion, or improper technique.
- Fractures. A fracture is a break in a bone due to a sudden impact, collision, or fall. Fractures can be minor (hairline) or severe (compound), depending on the force involved.
- Concussions. Head injuries that result from a blow to the head, concussions can happen when you fall, bump heads with another person, or get hit in the head by an object.
- Dislocations. This is when a bone is forced out of its normal position in a joint, often caused by a fall or direct impact.
- Torn ligaments. A more severe form of sprain where the ligament is partially or completely torn, this injury often requires medical attention and rehabilitation.
- Overuse injuries. Repetitive stress on muscles, tendons, or bones from constant training without adequate rest and recovery can produce chronic pain and immobility.
- Achilles tendonitis. This inflammation of the Achilles tendon is commonly seen in runners and those involved in jumping sports.
- Rotator cuff injuries. Tears or strains in the muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint are common in activities involving throwing or overhead movements, such as pitching for a softball team.
- Meniscus tears. Damage to the cartilage in the knee, usually resulting from sudden twisting or impact, a meniscus tear can be debilitating.
These kinds of injuries could lead to significant time off work. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to get workers’ compensation benefits because you think the circumstances of your injury mean it won't be covered. Discover for sure!