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Recreational activities and Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation

skiing-in-the-trees-1425767-mInjuries can happen in any work context in Massachusetts, including some recreational contexts so long as the injury is in the course and scope of employment. Generally recreational activities sponsored by an employer, but not required, such as a company picnic or after-hours social dinner are not covered by workers’ compensation. However, in an interesting 2009 case, a teacher was injured in a skiing accident while chaperoning a high school ski club trip and applied for workers’ compensation. Her employer was the city.

The case arose from a yearly ski club trip at a high school. The school sponsored the club and every year, club members went on a four-day-long ski trip and an overnight ski trip. The city paid a teacher to be an adviser, but other than that fundraising and student fees paid for the ski club’s expenses. Teachers that served as chaperones were not paid for attending, but the ski club paid their trip expenses.  While the school didn’t make teachers act as chaperones, it expected teachers to involve themselves with the students during extracurricular activities generally and encouraged them to chaperone the ski club trip.

The math teacher who was injured had volunteered to chaperone because she enjoyed skiing. While chaperoning, she skied with other chaperones and students, but fell and injured her shoulder badly. She needed two surgeries and physical therapy.

She filed for workers’ compensation benefits, but the city claimed it wasn’t liable for those benefits. An administrative judge denied her claim. At the next hearing, the employee’s claim was denied again on the basis that her participation in the ski trip was purely voluntary.

The employee appealed to the board. It reversed the administrative judge and awarded her workers’ compensation benefits, ruling that even though she volunteered, the recreational aspect of her job was incidental to the work aspects. The city appealed.

The appellate court reviewed the decision. The issue was whether the board’s decision was arbitrary. The court noted that the board was entitled to deference.

On appeal, the city argued again that she had voluntarily participated in the ski trip and was therefore barred by statute. It claimed that the board should have rejected the claim instead of analyzing the connection between her teacher duties and the ski trip.

The appellate court reasoned that the employee’s injury arose out of the course of her employment. There is a five-factor test in which the court weighs the customary nature of the activity, the employer’s encouragement of participation, the extent to which the employer directed the activity and the presence of pressure to participate. The court explained that the weight of each factor varied from case to case.

It also explained that the workers’ compensation statute had been amended to exclude injuries resulting from purely voluntary participation in any recreational activity even if the employer pays some of the cost. However, the five-factor test still applied.

The appellate court explained that the skiing arose out of the teacher’s employment. Her role as a chaperone included the same responsibilities she had while working in the school building and she was skiing with the students not skiing on her own. The school encouraged teacher participation. The ski club’s trips furthered the school’s mission and therefore the chaperones furthered the school’s mission.

Although she volunteered, the teacher had been skiing in the course of her employment. The court explained that to serve as a ski-club chaperone was different than attending a company picnic outside of work hours. Her chaperoning activities provided a substantial benefit to her employer and required her to perform many of the same duties as teaching did. In contrast at company social gatherings, employees are not expected to perform their usual job duties. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the board’s award of benefits.

If you are injured on the job, retaining an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney may be your smartest decision. We can fight for the benefits you and your family need. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

More Blog Posts:

Impartial Physician Reports in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation, October 23, 2013

Misclassification of Workers in Massachusetts, November 6, 2013

Avoiding Top Workplace Injuries, October 14, 2013