A California appeals court recently ruled in favor of a correctional officer who had filed a claim for workers' compensation. His injury? He was hurt while doing jumping jacks at home.
The man from Butte County claimed that he was required to maintain his physical readiness as part of his position, and that the employer did not allow for exercise time while on the job. He claimed his employer, the Butte County Sheriff’s Department, required correctional officers to “maintain themselves in good physical condition so they can handle the strenuous physical contacts often required of a law enforcement officer.”
His home based exercise regimen included warm-up calisthenics, including those now known to be treacherous jumping jacks, followed by use of a weight machine or elliptical equipment. It was during a warm up in one of these sessions in January 2012 that the man allegedly hurt himself. During a set of jumping jacks, he felt “extreme stabbing pain in [his] left knee”. The 64 year old Sheriff's Sergeant reported the injury to his superiors as work-related because of the department’s requirement that he stay in good shape.
It seems to me that getting injured is the exact opposite of “staying in good shape”. It could have been a disciplinary opportunity, if that policy were consistently enforced.
His case was originally approved by a workers' compensation judge, and then overturned on appeal. A Court of Appeals panel reversed the earlier reversal. In their decision, Justice Kathleen Butz wrote for the court, saying “The department does not provide correctional sergeants with an opportunity to exercise or maintain a fitness regimen during work hours; nor does the department provide guidance as to the type of exercises or activities considered appropriate for maintaining the requisite level of fitness”.
It is an interesting decision, as it can virtually open up any home based injury to a potential workers' compensation claim. There are many positions that require certain physical abilities in order to maintain a position. I am not sure many of them extend protections over off the job activities designed to help accomplish that goal. My job requires me to be conscious and relatively cognizant throughout the day. I am not saying I do that job well, but it is a requirement. If I fall out of bed while trying to get a good night's sleep, in order that I might be conscious and relatively cognizant throughout the day, may I then file a workers' compensation claim for my bedtime boo boo?
The claimant also testified that he had to sometimes perform training exercises with a partner. This, according to testimony, involved “taking turns being the aggressor and the officer,” while working with “control holds, takedowns and self-defense techniques”. He must have been quite the Prom date. He also had to participate in “extremely strenuous” baton training, which involved battling an “inanimate object full out for a long period of time.”
Hey pal, come grapple with the candy machine in our break room, and then tell me about “battling an inanimate object full out for a long period of time.”
At any rate, it is fairly clear that home based workplace driven jumping jacks should probably be banned from the home based workplace workout regimen. There is just too much risk involved. The court decision does advise that Sheriffs’ departments can “limit the scope of their potential liability by designating and/or pre-approving athletic activities or fitness regimens”.
The justices did not issue any guidance, however, as to the compensability of bedtime boo boo's incurred when trying to meet the “shall remain conscious” requirements of the job.