Ark. Court Says Worker at Retreat Entitled to Aid After Injury

September 21, 2006

The Arkansas Court of Appeals said a woman who was injured during a “team bonding” retreat with co-workers was entitled to workers’ compensation, reversing a state panel’s ruling that she wasn’t performing work for her employer at the time.

Tina Engle, employed by Thompson Murray Inc., helped plan and was required to attend the Aug. 7, 2003, retreat at Gaston’s Resort and Bull Shoals Lake – and was paid for doing so.

In a video address to workers, company CEO Andy Murray thanked employees for their work in the previous year, encouraged them to develop a refined sense of what it means to be a leader, and “recharge” and “most importantly have fun.”

A schedule of events directed workers to a spot at the lake where they could climb rocks and jump off them into the water. While trying to jump – after her supervisor had successfully leapt – Engle fell and struck rocks below.

The Workers’ Compensation Commission said that because Engle wasn’t specifically told to jump from the rocks, it is “obvious that this activity was neither directly nor indirectly necessary for her to perform her job duties.”

But Judge Terry Crabtree wrote that Engle was working at the time.

“The purpose of the offsite meeting was for employees to bond, refresh, set new goals and have fun,” Crabtree wrote. “As long as the participants were advancing the purpose of the meeting, they were furthering the interest of their employer.”

Because Engle helped plan the event, her job required that she participate even more, the court said.

“It defies reason to assert that (Engle) was required by her employer to find a place from where to jump, but was not expected to participate in jumping,” Crabtree wrote. “The employer designated a block of time during which employees were expected to engage in activities at the lake.”

In a concurring opinion, Judge Wendell Griffen wrote that employees should not set up required outings for employees and then refuse to compensate them for injuries suffered at them. Such a move lacks common sense, he said.

“We should not forget as judges what we know was intelligent human beings,” Griffen said in a preface to his opinion.

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