Mandatory fun: when recreational activities are compensable

March 21st, 2004 by Julie Ferguson

Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance reports that the New Jersey Supreme Court recently awarded workers compensation benefits to an employee injured in a go-cart accident that occurred after hours. This finding reversed an earlier decision that dismissed the case as extracurricular horseplay.

There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to compensability and recreational activities are among them. Generally, recreational activities would not be compensable. The foundation for determining compensability is “arising out of and in the course of employment. On first blush, an activity like riding a go-cart after work doesn’t sound as though it meets that standard.

But there are certain circumstances when a court may decide that an injury resulting from a recreational activity would indeed be compensable. When an employer requires participation in a recreational activity, for example; or if it can be shown that the employer was deriving significant benefit from the employee’s activity at the point of injury. Sometimes, when the injury occurs on the employer’s premises — even if it stems from an activity that is recreational and voluntary in nature — it may be deemed compensable. There are no black and whites. Laws vary stated by state, as do court interpretations.

Employers should be cautious in the types of recreational activities they mandate, whether the coercion is implied or overt. Sometimes a company’s cultural values can be so strong as to make participation in teams or activities seem anything but voluntary. Most of us have seen companies where the pressure to join an after-hours sports team or some other activity can be quite intense. That could mean trouble in the event of an injury, particularly if that pressure came from a manager or supervisor.

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