Are Injuries Sustained During Social Events Compensable?

By: Eva C. Roffis, Esq.

Typically, an injury sustained by a worker at a social or recreational event is not compensable. However, numerous factors must be examined in order to determine whether the claimant’s accident arose out of the employment.

In Short (deceased) v. Lumos Networks Corp., JCN VA00001070344 (Dec. 12, 2016), the decedent was involved in an accident while engaging in a recreational event at an off-site work conference resulting in his death. In a unanimous Opinion by the Full Commission, it was found that the decedent’s accident did not arise out of his employment and was, therefore, found not compensable.

In deciding this case, the Full Commission determined that the pivotal question to be examined was whether the decedent was engaged in a social or recreational activity that was so closely related to the employment to be considered an incident of the employment.  The Full Commission listed factors to analyze when determining this question, including:

  1. The extent to which the employer expects or requires the employees to attend  the activity/event;
  2. The degree to which the employer derives a benefit from the activity;
  3. The degree of sponsorship and participation by the employer;
  4. Whether the activity/event occurs on premises associated with the employment;
  5. When the activity occurs in relation to work; and
  6. The frequency or period over which the activity has been conducted.

In this case, the decedent was at a work conference when he was thrown off of a mountain bike while riding down a slope. The Full Commission ruled that while the decedent was expected to attend the conference, he was not required or encouraged to participate in the activity resulting in his death.  The claimant’s mountain bike riding was separate from conference events and no other employees participated. The Full Commission affirmed the Deputy Commissioner’s finding that the decedent’s decision to engage in bike riding was personal to the decedent and had no reasonable relationship to either the employer’s business or the conference.

A contrasting example can be seen in Kelley v. County of Henrico, JCN VA00001046469 (Dec. 16, 2016), which was issued by the Full Commission on December 16, 2016. In that case, a police officer sustained injuries when he was involved in a motor vehicle accident on his way to the Henrico County Training Facility. The accident was deemed to be in the course of employment, even though the claimant was off-duty at the time of the accident and was traveling to the facility to work out. The Full Commission found that although the claimant was off-duty, he was effectively on call at all hours of the day. Specifically, the Full Commission stated that “off-duty officers are expected to respond to a call for service.” Additionally, the employer offered a fitness program that permitted its officers to work out during their work shifts for up to four hours each week. The claimant was not actively participating in this program at the time of his accident, as it was not convenient for him to go to the gym during his work hours. However, the Full Commission stated that they were “persuaded that the employer had impliedly required the claimant to participate in fitness activity and made the activity part of the claimant’s services so as to bring the activity within the orbit of the claimant’s employment.” Further, it was found “that exercise and a high level of fitness are strongly encouraged by the employer.” The Full Commission’s decision was based heavily on how strongly the employer encouraged/required the claimant to exercise, the fact that the claimant was “on call,” and the employer’s benefit in the claimant maintaining a high level of fitness.

In comparing the above cases, it becomes obvious that the analysis in these cases is very fact specific. When determining whether an injury sustained by a worker at a social or recreational event is compensable, it is necessary to thoroughly investigate and analyze all of the above factors.

Read the full Opinions here:

Short (deceased) v. Lumos Networks Corp.

Kelley v. County of Henrico

If you have any questions regarding this topic and the analysis involved, please feel free to contact our office.