We spend a lot of time at work, so it is only natural that coworkers end up becoming friends and spending time together when they are off the clock. Workplaces may even have various events and activities where coworkers can do fun things and get to know each other.
The question is: if an injury occurs in these types of settings, is it covered by California’s workers’ compensation system? The experienced workers’ compensation attorneys in Bakersfield at Berry, Smith & Bartell can review the circumstances of your case and determine if you may be owed benefits for medical bills and disability.
The general rule regarding off-duty injuries that occur during recreational or athletic activities where your participation is voluntary is that they are not covered by the workers’ compensation system.
However, the exception to this rule is when you reasonably believed your participation in these activities was required as a condition of your employment. This exception applies whether the employer expressed you needed to participate or there was an implied expectation you needed to participate.
If you pursue compensation for an off-duty work injury, you must establish that you had a subjective belief that your participation in the activity that led to injury was expected by the employer and that this belief was objectively reasonable.
These kinds of injuries are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, so there is no hard-and-fast rule on whether your off-duty injury is covered. This is one of the advantages of working with an experienced lawyer with a track record of success in workers’ compensation claims.
It is helpful to review past workers’ compensation cases to see how the general rule and exception function. This can help give you a better idea about whether or not you have a legitimate workers’ compensation claim.
In this 2015 case, a police officer filed a workers’ compensation claim after he went on a hike while off-duty with his large dog. The dog pulled on his leash, causing the claimant to fall 60 feet down a hill, leading to a shattered right shoulder, four broken ribs and a puncture wound in his lung.
The officer’s employer had individual fitness plans for employees. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) held that the injuries were not compensable because it was not objectively reasonable for the claimant to believe that his employer’s individual fitness plan covered hiking on a steep trail.
Additionally, the individual fitness plan had established guidelines and safety recommendations. The plan stated that off-duty activities performed outside the guidelines were excluded from workers’ compensation coverage.
This case also involved an injured police officer who was hurt while on vacation. He was near the end of a three-mile run and was training for an upcoming physical fitness test, which was mandatory for him to keep his position on the SWAT team.
The court held that the injury was compensable because it met both the subjective and objective reasonableness standards. The 2nd District Court of Appeal said physical training was a reasonable expectation of employment.
In another case regarding a police officer injury, which occurred while the officer was running on a track, the court held that the officer was entitled to benefits because he was required to pass a physical test four times a year to maintain his position. One part of the test required him to run two miles in 27 minutes.
In this case, the court held that an injury an officer sustained while working out was compensable. The officer in this case was working out on the employer’s premises to maintain general fitness. Testimony showed that the officer subjectively believed the employer expected him to work out at the gym, so he could protect himself and the public. The court found this belief subjectively reasonable since the officer was able to sleep at the station, which would allow him to be called back to duty. The employer also provided the gym where the officer was working out.
If you were injured at a work-related off-hours event that you think was required as a term of your employment, the knowledgeable legal team at Berry, Smith & Bartell is ready to review the situation and discuss what you can do next. We can thoroughly investigate your claim and aggressively pursue benefits to help you through this difficult time.
We charge no upfront fees and work on a contingency-fee basis, so there is no risk in contacting us to learn more about your rights. Schedule your free consultation today with a skilled workers’ compensation attorney.