Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C.

Can an employer deny workers' comp because of horseplay?

Different businesses have different workplace rules involving horseplay. This can depend on the tone set by ownership or management, perhaps it is tied to the type of work involved, or maybe the employees created their routine. Regardless of the origin, there still may be expectations -- an impromptu dance party in a hospital operating theater will be frowned upon, but it may be an accepted everyday occurrence at a popular restaurant.

One recent case involved two employees who worked at an Adult Detention Center where two employees had established a pattern of horseplay during quiet stretches of their overnight shift. During one such occasion, one of them tripped on a staircase and broke a fibula and ankle. The woman reported the accident and sought workers' compensation. She gave a fabricated account of what happened at first, but the center's surveillance video revealed the true cause.

Two tests to determine valid cases

When considering whether an employee's workers' compensation claim is valid, the workers' compensation judges will look for the following:

  • Was the activity that caused injury tied to employment rather than an isolated incident?
  • Was the activity that caused injury a substantial deviation from regular employment?

The ruling

According to reports, the workers' compensation judge found that there was horseplay; nevertheless, workers' compensation did apply to the injury. The center then took the case to the New Mexico court of appeals, which again ruled in favor of the worker. The basis was ruling was that employees regularly engaged in this type of behavior and the employer had previously done nothing to stop it. Because of the employees' previous actions, the court deemed that the injury was reasonably foreseeable by the employer.

Employers sometimes try to avoid paying

Employers sometimes view an accident as outside the purview of the employee's job description and may try to avoid paying the compensation. If this happens here in Eastern Pennsylvania, the employee would be wise to seek guidance from an attorney who has extensive experience handling workers' compensation.  These cases can be very fact-specific, and having an expert attorney on your side is a must.

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