Think twice about mandating extracurricular activities

September 25th, 2006 by Julie Ferguson

Is an injury that occurs as the result of a dive at a swimming hole a compensable injury? It is if swimming is one of the activities at a mandatory company-sponsored event. Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance alerted us to a recent ruling by the Arkansas Court of Appeals in the case of Tina Engle vs. Thompson Murray Inc. and Continental Casualty Co.. Ms. Engle was injured while diving at a company retreat, a team-building exercise. An administrative law judge had originally denied the claim, finding that the employee was not at work at the time of the injury. The Appeals court disagreed, finding in favor of the employee.
An article from the Arkansas News Bureau tells us that Ms. Engle had the responsibility of organizing the off-site company activity, which included pontoon boat rides and a place for employees to climb rock and jump into the water.

“The purpose of the off-site meeting was for employees to bond, refresh, set new goals and have fun,” Crabtree wrote. “As long as the participants were advancing the purpose of the meeting, they were furthering the interest of their employer.”

Crabtree said it “defies reason to assert that (Engle) was required by her employer to find a place from which to jump, but was not expected to participate in the jumping.”

Engle “was engaging in conduct permitted and participated by the employer; therefore, it was erroneous for the commission to conclude that (Engle) was not engaged in employment services because the employer did not expressly direct (Engle) to jump from the cliff,” Crabtree wrote.”

This concept of advancing or furthering the interests of the employer is one that surfaces frequently as a determining factor whether an employee should be compensated for injuries that occur outside the normal place or time of work. Does the employer derive some benefit from the performance of the activity? What we refer to as “mandatory fun” – activities that an employer requires – are generally found compensable, even when they involve riding around in go-karts. If you don’t want to own any resulting injuries, think twice about requiring the activity.