Nonparticipating Victim of Workplace Horseplay Awarded WC Benefits

 In Workers' Compensation Blog

Workplace HorseplayThe Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) recently approved benefits for a woman who was injured when a coworker jumped on her because it was determined that she was the nonparticipating victim of workplace horseplay.

In the matter of Allen v. Atlas Staffing Agency, the woman was employed as a mold inspector and product packager. On November 4, 2015, Ms. Allen was at her place of employment and walking to the break room with an estimated twenty other coworkers in order to clock out for the day. While Ms. Allen was heading over to end her work day, a male coworker “playfully” jumped onto the back of her neck and knocked her to the ground, causing her to land on her left shoulder with resultant injury. Ms. Allen subsequently insisted that she was “shocked” by the occurrence and was also not a willing participant in the action, which, under workers’ compensation law, would be characterized as workplace horseplay.

Workplace Horseplay

Workplace horseplay is rough, boisterous “play” that a worker engages in while on the job. Horseplay may include pranks, games, physical contact such as fighting or wrestling, or other forms of general “goofing off.” Because these activities typically do not fall under the list of standard job duties in most workplaces, employees who injure themselves while engaging in workplace horseplay are not usually eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under Illinois law. There is, however, one significant exception to this rule, and it applies to any employee who could be classified as a “nonparticipating victim” of horseplay.

Nonparticipating Victims

In Murray v. Indus. Comm’n of Illinois, Judge McNamara drew upon precedents established in previous workers’ compensation cases in the state to determine that “Illinois permits the nonparticipating victim of horseplay to recover worker’s compensation benefits.” Therefore, an employee who has not chosen to participate in any horseplay, but has horseplay thrust upon him or her, as in the case of a prank, could still recover workers’ compensation benefits for any injuries sustained during that horseplay, provided they occurred while the employee was working on the job. Following this line of reasoning, Judge McNamara awarded benefits to claimant David Murray, whose coworker hit him unprovoked in the back of the thighs and caused him to fall forward on his right knee – a situation that was very similar to Ms. Allen’s.

“Not a Friend”

In her testimony before the arbitrator, Ms. Allen stated that she was not a willing participant to the incident at issue and that it was not her intention to engage in behavior with her coworker that could be characterized as “playful.” Moreover, while Ms. Allen stated that her coworker was a “friend” on social media, she did not consider him an actual friend. Therefore, she would not have chosen to participate in workplace horseplay with him, as one might conceivably do with a friend at work.

On cross examination, the defense presented Ms. Allen with a statement that she wrote the day after the incident in which she declared that “the coworker was trying to play around and the incident was not work related.” Ms. Allen countered that the statement was coerced and that she had only written it because her employer made her do so as a condition of receiving her paycheck.

Entitled to Benefits

The arbitrator awarded benefits to Ms. Allen. In so doing, the arbitrator argued that Illinois allows “nonparticipating victims” of horseplay to recover workers’ compensation benefits when the activity occurs within the course of employment. According to the evidence, Ms. Allen had finished her work day and was going to clock out in the break room when her coworker jumped on her, meaning that the incident occurred during the course of her employment.

Further, the arbitrator argued that Ms. Allen was not arguing or fighting with her coworker on the date of the incident, nor did she contact police or file a criminal report after her coworker jumped on her. She also later informed hospital personnel that her coworker was “playing around,” though she also denied that what happened was “consensual horseplay.” Taking all of this into account, the arbitrator decided that Ms. Allen was injured during the course of her employment by an act that could best be described as “uninvited horseplay,” so she was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, a decision that the IWCC affirmed and adopted.

Workers’ Compensation Claims

As you may see from this example, workers’ compensation claims can be complicated. Most injured workers find that they benefit from the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney, like the workers’ compensation attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers, Illinois’ largest Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury law firm.

If you have been injured in the workplace, please call GWC today to schedule a free consultation with one of our workers’ compensation attorneys. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives.

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