employees playing in office on chairs

Ask the Experts: Is Horseplay Covered by Workers’ Compensation?

Horseplay Can Negatively Affect Staff, Claims Process

Horseplay can result in some tricky situations for employers. Consider the following scenario. A lifeguard at a local swimming pool tosses a water balloon at an unsuspecting coworker. The balloon bursts in the coworker’s face and inflicts a severe eye injury.

This highlights the potential consequences of workplace horseplay. Even a seemingly harmless toy can have repercussions for staff and employers.

As the employer, it’s incumbent on you to communicate that horseplay doesn’t belong in the workplace. Remind your employees that the unintended consequences could have lifelong affects. Instituting a written policy and talking about it annually ensures everyone is aware of that fact.

Since the 1990s, courts have used the four factors from Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law in determining whether a horseplay injury is compensable under workers’ compensation. The four factors are:

  1. The extent and seriousness of the deviation [from course of employment],
  2. The completeness of the deviation (i.e., whether it was commingled with the performance of duty or involved an abandonment of duty),
  3. The extent to which the practice of horseplay had become an accepted part of the employment, and
  4. The extent to which the nature of the employment may be expected to include some such horseplay.

Colorado statute states that when an “injury results from the employee’s willful failure to obey any reasonable rule adopted by the employer for the safety of the employee,” it is deemed an act of an employee that justifies the reduction of workers’ compensation benefits. This means members should curb rough play in order to prevent it from becoming “an accepted part of the employment.”

When members maintain a policy against horseplay, claimants who violate that policy have seen their claim benefits reduced by up to 50 percent. By restricting the potential amount of the claim, you would also limit the negative impact on your loss history.

This works just like your personal auto coverage. When the Pool pays a claim, it leads to higher coverage costs over the following few years. In addition, if the district has a deductible, it could also require further out-of-pocket payments.

If employees understand that not obeying horseplay policies might reduce their coverage if they are injured, it could change their behavior. The truth is, injuries may not be fully covered under a members’ workers’ compensation coverage if an employee willingly participated in horseplay.

In fact, if injured, they could even incur significant out-of-pocket expenses. However, this penalty applies to non-medical payments, so it would only affect things like lost wages. There would still be coverage for medical costs.

Maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for horseplay is a critical loss-prevention tool for districts to discourage unsafe behavior in the workplace. As stewards of public funds, you know how important it is for your district to operate a safe work environment.

No one wants to see injured employees penalized for horseplay. By communicating expectations in advance, you can prevent these incidents entirely.

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