Team Building Laser Tag Game Leads to Workers Compensation in North Carolina
A mandatory company conference included a game of laser tag for all employees, to help build team spirit; however, the game caused one of the workers to injure his knee, so he filed a workers compensation claim.
Timothy W. Holliday, a 54-year-old former territory manager and outside sales representative for Tropical Nut & Fruit Co. in Asheville, North Carolina, was required to attend the company’s annual 3-day long sales and marketing conference, hosted in Charlotte. He was paid his normal salary for attending the conference in 2011, and did not take vacation or personal leave.
The point of the conference for employees of Tropical Nut & Fruit Co. was primarily to learn about “the past year’s sales, introduced new products, held training sessions, discussed prospective strategies for the company, presented end-of-year awards, and provided an opportunity for the employees to meet vendors as well as colleagues who worked for Tropical in various other locations.”
The first evening of the conference included assigned – and therefore presumably mandatory – recreational activities that the company sponsored. Many companies who require employees to attend conferences sponsor these types of activities to promote team building and group cohesion, and help employees who do not otherwise interact get to know each other better. However, these types of team-building exercises are still, in the majority of cases, mandatory.
One of the conference’s activities was laser tag, and the attendees were divided into groups to play. About 15 minutes into the game, Holliday stated that he felt a “sharp pain” in his right leg. He informed the general manager that he had injured his knee, stopped playing that round of laser tag, and kept ice on his leg during the remainder of the conference.
When he returned home to Asheville, Holliday responsibly visited an orthopedist. After some MRIs, it was discovered that Holliday had torn some of the meniscus tissue around his knee, which requires physical therapy and surgery in most cases. He underwent that knee surgery in October 2011, 2 months after the conference. Holliday was able to return to his normal job, although he was laid off due to company restructuring a year later. Then, a specialist declared that Holliday’s knee injury was worsening and he would require a knee replacement.
Holliday filed for workers compensation, which was denied by Tropical Fruit & Nut. However, a deputy commissioner for North Carolina’s workers comp insurance stated that Holliday had “sustained a compensable right knee injury on August 18, 2011, which required surgical correction and ultimate knee replacement, which were both necessitated by the aggravation caused by his laser tag injury.” Holliday was awarded total temporary disability.
Tropical Fruit & Nut appealed the decision, but North Carolina Industrial Commission reaffirmed the deputy commissioner’s workers comp award. The company then escalated the appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, arguing that participation in the laser tag game was not mandatory, although the conference was. However, a sales manager for Tropical Fruit & Nut testified that the outing was an official part of the conference and was therefore mandatory for conference attendees. You can check out South Carolina workers compensation laws here.
Most states uphold workers comp award rulings for employees who injure themselves in the course of work activities, which can include attending mandatory conferences, driving employer vehicles for work purposes, or sometimes for accidents that injure them on their way to work.