If you require certain employees to stay in good physical shape and pass regular fitness tests, a recent court ruling raises this key question: Could your organization be on the hook for workers' compensation bneefits if the employee gets hurt while working out during a vacation?
Depending on your state's workers' comp law, the answer could be "yes."
Example: Dave Tomlin was a member of the Beverly Hills SWAT team and had to pass regular physical exams to show he was ready for strenuous activities at work. He trained regularly by running several miles, lifting weights and doing exercises. Then, a few weeks before one of the exams, he went on vacation.
While on vacation, he went for a run and slipped, breaking his ankle. After he returned to work, he filed a workers’ compensation claim, alleging that his time off should have been covered since he hurt himself while preparing for the exam.
The city of Beverly Hills opposed the claim, arguing that if Tomlin was eligible for coverage, it effectively meant every SWAT team member was covered 24 hours per day for any injury suffered during any physical activity.
But the court agreed with Tomlin. It noted that California law, like some other states' laws, covers injuries that occur off-duty if the employee can show:
- That he or she subjectively believes his employer expects him to participate in the activity that caused the injury.
- That the belief is objectively reasonable.
Based on the evidence, the court concluded that Tomlin’s belief that his employer expected him to continue to exercise on vacation was both subjectively and objectively reasonable. He was eligible for workers' comp benefits. It’s irrelevant whether the activity occurred on vacation or at home. (Tomlin v. WCAB and Beverly Hills, No. B199429, Court of Appeal of California, 2008)
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