Say you work for a company in South Carolina and your boss asks you to organize an employee kickball game to make the work atmosphere more enjoyable. And say you jump during the game, land awkwardly and fracture your leg.
Are you eligible for South Carolina workers' compensation?
Yes, indeed, according to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which recently approved workers' compensation in just such a scenario. The case involved an employee of a public relations firm who shattered his tibia and fibula during a company kickball game and underwent two surgeries.
The workers' compensation system typically provides coverage for injuries that occur within the course and scope of a worker's employment. But some circumstances are so unusual that hot disputes arise about whether an injury truly was related to work.
In the kickball case, the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission ruled that the employee was not entitled to benefits, concluding that he was not required to attend the kickball event. On appeal, however, the South Carolina Supreme Court disagreed, siding with the injured worker.
"Although the event may have been voluntary for company employees generally, the undisputed facts unequivocally indicate [the injured employee] was expected to attend as part of his professional duties," the court wrote.
According to the ruling, attending an event is not voluntary "If the employee is made to understand that he is to take part in the affair."
The court also stated: "A specific act need not be designated in an employee's job description to be compensable."
Unusual Work Injuries
Workers' compensation provides coverage for medical fees, lost wages, rehabilitation and other costs for injuries occurring on the job. The system also provides death benefits for the family of an employee who dies of work-related injuries. But as the kickball case shows, work-based injuries don't necessarily take place at the main jobsite or workplace, and employers can dispute a workers' comp claim on the grounds that an injury or death was not sustained in the course and scope of employment.
In recent years, courts across the country have addressed many out-of-the-ordinary workers' comp incidents. In some cases the courts favored the employee, while in others they favored the employer -- and the differences are elucidating.