The South Carolina Supreme Court recently ruled that an employee who broke his leg in two places during a company kickball game could be eligible to recover workers’ compensation benefits.
The reason: The employee had organized the “team-building event,” and based on the testimony by both he and his boss, it was clear to the Court that it was “impliedly required” that the employee participate in the event.
Thus, the employee’s participation in the kickball game arose out of and in the course of his employment, making him eligible to recover the benefits available to injured workers in South Carolina.
If you want to read the entire opinion, you can go to the S.C. Supreme Court website.
It’s an interesting case that raises the question: Could a worker injured in a company kickball game in Florida be eligible to recover benefits, too?
The short answer: It depends.
Florida Statute Determines if Recreational/Social Activity Injury Is Compensable
At the heart of this South Carolina case was whether playing in the kickball game was something that fell within the course and scope of the worker’s employment. In South Carolina, as in Florida, only those types of injuries are eligible for benefits through the state’s workers’ compensation system.
In the South Carolina case, no statute answered the question of whether an employee could obtain workers’ compensation benefits for this type of injury. So, the court applied a three-factor test and found that one factor applied:
The employer brings the activity “within the orbit of the employment” by expressly or impliedly requiring participation or making it a part of the employee’s services.
Here, the employee testified that he understood that his participation in the kickball game was “expected rather than voluntary.” His boss, meanwhile, testified that it would have been “unexpected, unbelievable” if the employee, who had planned and organized the kickball game, did not participate in it.
In Florida, however, we would not apply the same three-factor test to this type of situation that the South Carolina Supreme Court used.
Instead, in Florida, we would apply a statute, Fla. Stat. § 440.092(1), which requires meeting a two-part test.
Under this test, an injury in a recreational or social activity would not be compensable unless the employee could show:
- The activity was an expressly required incident of employment, and
- It produced a substantial direct benefit to the employer beyond improvement in employee health and morale that is common to all kinds of recreation and social life.
If this test had been applied to the South Carolina case, the employee may have faced difficulty establishing a right to recover workers’ compensation benefits.
In the South Carolina case, perhaps an argument could have been made that the kickball game went beyond improving employee health and morale and was meant to establish the firm’s brand as a “fun place to work.” Fair enough.
However, the Court in the South Carolina case based its decision on the fact that the employee’s participation was “impliedly required.” In Florida, it would need to be “expressly required.” In other words, an employee’s mandatory participation would need to be clearly stated by an employer instead of merely “understood.”
This is not to say that such an injury could be not compensable in Florida. However, the evidence would have to establish that statements made by the employee’s boss could only be construed as “expressly” requiring him to play in the kickball game.
So, what is an example of a Florida case where an injury in a social or recreational activity could lead to workers’ compensation benefits?
Let’s look at this actual decision (Highlands County School Board v. Savage, 609 So.2d 133 (1992)):
In this case, a teacher was hurt while playing in an annual charity event at the school during school hours.
The Court found that it was “uncontradicted” that the game was a “school activity” in which teachers were “expressly required” to participate as either players or spectators.
Additionally, the event went beyond merely improving the health and morale of teachers, according to the Court. This was because the event was for the purpose of developing community awareness by requiring students to participate in a community service project – the charity basketball game.
The bottom line: If you have been injured in a company social or recreational event – kickball, softball, basketball, whatever the case may be – you should contact an experienced Florida workers’ compensation attorney who can review the facts of your case and work hard to protect your rights to compensation.