In Young v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, the California Court of Appeal (Third Appellate District) examined compensability of injuries sustained by law enforcement officers while voluntarily participating in off-duty recreational, social, or athletic activities. The Court held that a law enforcement officer’s knee injury sustained while working out at home was compensable, because the activity was part of a fitness regimen reasonably expected by his employer.
Daniel Young (“Young”), a correctional sergeant with the Butte County Sheriff’s Department, injured his left knee at home while doing jumping jacks as warm-up to his workout, which included training on his elliptical and weight machines. Sheriff Departmental Order No. 3004 required correctional sergeants to “maintain themselves in good physical condition so that they [could] handle the strenuous physical contacts often required of a law enforcement officer.”
Young asserted that his knee injury was work-related, because he sustained the injury while exercising to “maintain good physical condition” as required by the Department Order. The Department argued that California Labor Code section 3900(a)(9), made the injury not compensable, because it arose out of the employee’s voluntary participation in any off-duty recreational, social, or athletic activity that was not part of the employee’s work-related duties.
An exception to Section 3900(a)(9) applies when the off-duty activity is reasonably expected of the employment. An off-duty activity is reasonably expected of the employment where: (1) the employee subjectively believes his or her participation in the activity is expected by the employer and (2) the employee’s belief is objectively reasonable. An objectively reasonable belief will be found where the employer’s expectations or requirements are significantly related to the specific off-duty, injury-producing activity.
The Court held that Young’s belief was objectively reasonable, because the Department Order mandated that correctional sergeants maintain good physical condition and the Sheriff’s Department did not provide an opportunity to exercise or otherwise participate in a fitness regimen during work hours. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Department did not provide instruction about the types of exercises or fitness regimens that should be undertaken while off-duty. The Court also noted that it was objectively reasonable to believe that the Sheriff’s Department expected Young to warm-up before working out, because Young was required to complete periodic training sessions involving physical activity, and these training sessions included a warm-up. Finally, maintaining cardiovascular health was significantly related to the physical activity involved in the training sessions – i.e., cell extraction, restraint chair, baton use, arrest and control techniques, and grappling.
Addressing the concern that the decision expanded the exception to swallow the rule, the Young Court provided some direction to enforcement and non-law enforcement employers. An employer who maintains a written policy regarding the physical condition of its employees may proactively limit exposure to liability by designating and/or pre-approving athletic activities or fitness programs for their officers or employees.
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