Monday, January 31, 2011

The Horseplay Doctrine

Many of us have done stupid things at work.  Let me rephrase - my readers can relate to doing stupid things at work.  Up until now, stupidity and disruptive, boorish behavior left us unprotected, potential victims to an ethical boss who believes that a day's pay demands a day's work.  But infantile pranks and games in the workplace build morale, we argue.  Dumb stuff makes us who we are, and we can no sooner leave these acts of our childhood behind when work begins than we could leave our arms or legs at home.  Accept us whole, or leave us alone!

Finally, the Virginia Supreme Court agrees:

Filed by Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

Virginia Court Says ‘Horseplay Doctrine’ Entitles Worker to Comp
Under the “horseplay doctrine” a restaurant server injured by co-workers who threw ice at him is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, Virginia’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The ruling last week in Matthew Edward Simms v. Ruby Tuesday Inc. et al. is the first time Virginia’s high court has addressed the horseplay doctrine, which says an innocent victim of on-the-job horseplay is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, court records show.

Simms suffered a dislocated shoulder when he lifted his left arm to protect himself from pieces of ice thrown by co-workers, court records state.

A deputy workers’ compensation commissioner concluded that Simms was entitled to temporary total disability. However, before his injury at work, Simms had dislocated his shoulder several times, so the deputy commissioner also found that the surgery Simms underwent later was not related to his work injury.

However, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled in 2009 that even though Simms was an innocent victim of horseplay, there was no connection between his employment conditions and the ice attack. The ruling sided with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, which had overturned the deputy commissioner’s decision.

But in its ruling last week, Virginia’s Supreme Court applied an “actual risk test,” in which an injury falls within workers’ compensation law “only if there is a causal connection between the employee’s injury and the conditions under which the employer requires the work to be done,” court records state.

The state high court also relied on a theory of recovery, which has found that joking actions of co-workers are a risk of employment because humans are playful and from time to time engage in pranks, which can be dangerous.

The Virginia Supreme Court remanded the case for a finding consistent with its opinion. In a contrary ruling last year, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled an injured worker must prove his injury was not a result of horseplay in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits. 

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