Voluntary or Employer Controlled?
Petitioner alleged she sustained a right knee injury on September 30, 2017 during a recreational activity that she claimed was related to her employment. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined her injury was not causally connected to petitioner’s job duties according to the applicable test in Utah regarding recreational activities.
On September 30, 2017, petitioner participated in an all-day softball tournament outside of her working hours. She learned about the tournament through a representative of the employer. Participants brought their own equipment to the field and not all players were employed by the employer. Participation was voluntary and there was no compensation or prizes for the players. The representative discussed safety and gave instructions as to how the tournament would work, but provided no other directions. During one of the games, petitioner hit a ball and as she ran to first base, she felt a pop below her kneecap. She was later diagnosed with an ACL tear and had surgery.
The Appeals Board followed established authority which establishes that compensability of an injury during recreational activities depends on the circumstances of each individual case based on four criteria:
- Time and place: games scheduled during work hours and on company premise are usually found compensable. Where games are off premise and after hours, the burden of proving the work connection is based heavily on the other three factors below. Time and place are the decisive elements in determining compensability.
- Degree of employer initiative, promotion and sponsorship. When sufficiently present, this factor will support the activity was employment released and this element tends to support compensability, but is not decisive.
- Financial support and equipment furnished by the employer. This alone is not sufficient to make the activity work related.
- Employer benefit. This element is also supportive. Intangible values, such as increased work efficiency and morale are insufficient to demonstrate a link to employment.
The Appeals Board indicated the only element that supported petitioner’s claim was the promotion of the softball games. However, the Court held that this element is not dispositive by itself and the degree of promotion and sponsorship was to be considered. Ultimately, the Appeals Board found the employer did not exercise sufficient control over petitioner through the softball game. The other elements also failed to support that the injury arose out of and in the course of petitioner’s employment and the Appeals Board affirmed the ALJ’s decision denying the claim.
Lisa Jansson v. Rio Tinto and American Zurich Insurance Co., Case No. 18-0222 (February 26, 2019)
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