Company outing leads to comp claim: Why?

Imagine this: You’ve decided your company will sponsor a night of bowling for your employees and their families to improve morale. One employee injures his back while bowling. Now, believe it or not, you’ve got a workers’ comp claim on your hands.

Worse yet: This isn’t made up. And the employee got workers’ comp for his bowling injury.

Robert Powell, a Cedar Rapids Gazette employee, was one of 75 workers who participated in family bowling night sponsored by his employer. He bowled eight games.

The next day, his back and left leg hurt. Eventually, he had two rounds of surgery and was placed on disability.

Later, he lost his job in a dispute over whether he was able to work, according to an article in the Des Moines Register.

Four years later, the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner awarded Powell more than $100,000 in benefits.

Why? Because a Supreme Court ruling says if activities that led to an injury were for the benefit of the employer, or for the mutual benefit of the employer and worker, they should be treated as work-related.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that several states are rewriting their workers’ comp laws to prevent an employees from collecting benefits for injuries during voluntary recreational company activities. Tennessee was the latest to pass such a law in June.

Still, most states have yet to change their workers’ comp laws in this manner. Should you cancel the annual company picnic?

Not necessarily. Employers are more likely to get into trouble for injuries during company events when:

  • employee attendance is expected
  • the event takes place during normal work hours
  • uniforms promoting the company are worn, or
  • transportation is provided to the event.

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