If an employee sustains an injury at a voluntary team building work function, can the employer be held responsible for workers compensation? The case study of Stephen Gordon examines this question.
Stephen Gordon worked for a sales organization that was holding an event at a local go-karting facility. The event was completely voluntary. Stephen suggested that the purpose of the event was to build rapport and boost morale amongst employees. It was intended to reward employees for their hard work and success.
During the event, Stephen Gordon and other employees participated in go-kart races that were incentivized by prizes awarded to the fastest times. During Stephen’s race, he lost control of the go-kart and collided with the railing, forcing him from his go-kart. Following the injury, Stephen felt okay and continued to participate in the rest of the event (though he could not finish the race).
In the following weeks Stephen visited the hospital multiple times and eventually had to undergo surgery to remove fluid from a punctured lung that was the result of a rib fracture. This injury required Stephen to miss time from work for which he was compensated.
Stephen later filed for workers compensation and was heard by an administrative law judge (ALJ). Stephen argued that while the work event was not mandatory, there was some pressure to attend the event and to demonstrate your commitment to the team. He further argued that while racing was not mandated, it was encouraged and further incentivized by prizes.
The ALJ found that Stephen’s injuries arose during the course of his work day and further agreed that while the event was not mandatory, there was some pressure to attend the event and also to participate in activities at the event.
The employer appealed the case, however, the appealit judge upheld the original ruling and agreed that there was substantial evidence to support the finding that while the event was not mandatory, employees were encouraged to attend the event and incentivized to race at the event.
Ultimately the courts sided with Stephen and he was awarded a 15% disability. It’s important that businesses and employees recognize that the company can be held responsible for injuries sustained to employees while on the clock. It does not matter whether or not the employee is at a voluntary event or not. If the employee is being paid and a judge can rule that there was some pressure for the employee to attend the event, then the company will be held liable for any injuries sustained during that time.