The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Stephen Whigham was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for injuries he suffered during a company kickball game. This ruling came after Whigham’s claim was denied by his state’s workers’ comp commissioners. They had said participating in events like this is voluntary, meaning his injury did not arise out of or in the course of his employment, reported ABC News (8.27.14). The claim was denied because Whigham had not been required to be at the game.
Whigham shattered his tibia and fibula during the kickball game after trying to avoid being tagged. He had two surgeries and was told by his doctor that he needed a knee replacement.
In ruling for the employee, the supreme court acknowledged that employees can opt whether to be on a company team and they can show up or not, but, this case was different because the worker, Whigham, had been instrumental in organizing the event. Because the employee was in charge, the game became part of his job.
Justices made note of the fact Whigham’s boss testified that he would have been “surprised and shocked” if Whigham had not come to the game. The court determined that this statement, in addition to other facts, clarified that Whigham was “impliedly required” to participate in the game by his employer. In a case like this, then, an explicit directive from the employer to attend an event is not necessary “if the employee is made to understand that he is to take part in the affair.”
The court also noted that while Whigham’s job description did not include producing team-building events, his doing so reflected the company’s desire to “promote fun within the business.”
“A specific act need not be designated in an employee’s job description to be compensable,” the court said. “Organizing and attending the game thereby became part of his employment.”
An injury arises out of employment when there is a link between the injury and the conditions under which the work was performed. Workers’ compensation is insurance that provides cash benefits and-or medical care only for workers who are injured or become ill as a direct result of their job.
A hearing will be held to figure out how much Whigham should get.
The ABC News story cited is “State Court: Workers’ Comp OK for Kickball Injury.”
The court case is Whigham v. Jackson Dawson Communications (The State of South Carolina Supreme Court, Appellate Case No. 2012-212258)