Can horseplay void workers comp claim?

by on October 6, 2011 · 4 Comments POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network
crutches-260x173.jpg

“Hey, Rube, can I ask you a question?” asked Worker Jose Mendez. “When are we going to do something about this dangerous floor?”

“I know it’s a little wet,” said Supervisor Rube Winant. “Just be careful on it and you should have no problem. There’s not a lot we can do about it – except give you those slip-resistant shoes that you’re wearing.”

“Ha,” said Jose. “Those shoes don’t work well enough. The floor is so slick that I still nearly slip once a day here.”

Faked kick
At that moment, a third worker walked by. Jose, for no apparent reason, faked at kicking him in slow motion. Jose lost his balance and fell to the floor.

“Nice going,” said Rube, initially. “You know our rules against horseplay.”

“Hey, I’m really hurt here,” said Jose.

Rube realized that Jose was seriously hurt. He started first aid and got Jose medical care. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you fixed up,” said Rube.

Broken ankle
Jose suffered a broken ankle and a herniated groin.

He filed for workers compensation, but the company challenged the claim, saying that Jose broke the company’s rules about horseplay, and thus wasn’t entitled to workers’ comp.

Did the company win?

The Decision
No, the company lost. A state administrative law judge approved the claim and an appeals court backed it up. The decision hinged on two factors:

  1. The slippery conditions of the floor at least partially caused the fall. That’s known legally as an accident arising out of the “conditions of employment.”
  2. The pretend kick counted as minor horseplay, and though the company didn’t condone it, taking a moment or two to gesture at someone else, even using a leg, doesn’t count as a substantial deviation from work activities.

As this shows, accidents often occur when two or more things go wrong at the same time. The worker complained about the slippery conditions, and the company complained about the workers’ horseplay. Of the two, in this case, the floor conditions represented the more serious safety hazard.

Slippery surfaces
If you have floor areas that are frequently wet and slippery, work with your safety director to come up with ways to reduce the hazard.

Slip-resistant shoes aren’t always an answer – it’s better to have a surface with sufficient friction than try to make up for slick surfaces with better shoes. Drains, mats and gripping tape are all better alternatives than “be careful” or slid-resistant shoes.

Cite: Panera Bread, LLC v. Industrial Claims Appeals Office of the State of Colorado and Julio Medina. Col. App.

Click to View Comments

4 Comments on This Post

  1. October 6, 2011 - 12:46 pm

    Can fooling around at work void a workers compensation claim? :: The Stocker Pitts Law Firm | 1-800-486-0280

  2. October 6, 2011 - 12:46 pm

    Can fooling around at work void a workers compensation claim? :: The Stocker Pitts Law Firm | 1-800-486-0280

  3. October 7, 2011 - 12:11 pm

    “Slip-resistant shoes aren’t always an answer – it’s better to have a surface with sufficient friction than try to make up for slick surfaces with better shoes.”

    While slip resistant shoes won’t completely eliminate slip and fall accidents, they are a low- or no-cost solution (depending on the way the company structures the program) for drastically reducing accidents. In addition, many slip resistant shoe companies offer an indemnity to companies enrolled in a payroll deduction program, which will pay several thousand dollars towards worker’s compensation claims.
    Slip resistant shoes should always be part of an overall safety program which includes considering flooring, mats, cleaning products and more. But sometimes having “a surface with sufficient friction” isn’t feasible.

Leave a Reply

Close

Request a Free Demo

We'd love to show you how this industry-leading training system can help you develop your team. Please fill out this quick form or give us a call at 877-792-2172 to schedule your one-on-one demo with a Rapid Learning Specialist.