In Calumet School District #132 v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2016 IL App (1st) 153034WC Google Scholar | Illinois Courts PDF, the claimant, a middle school science teacher, sought workers’ compensation benefits for an accidental injury he sustained while participating in a student/teacher basketball game in the gymnasium after school.
At his hearing, the claimant testified that teachers were expected to attend and participate in afterschool activities, including open houses, parent/teacher conferences, and dances without additional compensation. He was nervous about participating in the basketball game because he was not a basketball player, but that the school principal had asked him to participate three times. He felt pressured to participate and that he worried not participating would negatively affect his upcoming performance review or contract, which had not yet been renewed.
Another teacher testified on behalf of the school. He described the basketball game as “just an impromptu basketball game between students and teachers” to challenge one another and strictly voluntary. He also testified that not participating would not negatively affect any teacher. He did, however, acknowledge that the teachers were responsible for the well-being of the students during the game.
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded benefits to the claimant, finding that his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment and that he was not engaged in a “voluntary recreational program.” The case was appealed to the Circuit Court, which reversed the Commission’s decision, and then appealed to the Appellate Court.
In its decision, the Appellate Court stated that in order to recover workers’ compensation benefits, a claimant must prove by the preponderance of the evidence that he has a suffered a disabling injury that arose out of and in the course of his employment.
Under section 11 of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, “[a]ccidental injuries incurred while participating in voluntary recreational programs including but not limited to athletic events, parties and picnics do not arise out of and in the course of the employment even though the employer pays some or all of the cost thereof.” However, “[t]his exclusion shall not apply in the event that the injured employee was ordered or assigned by his employer to participate in the program.” 820 ILCS 305/11 Illinois General Assembly | IWCC PDF.
Whether an activity is a “voluntary recreational program” under section 11 of the Act is a question of fact for the Commission, which the Appellate Court will not reverse unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence. Under this standard of review, reviewing courts give a high degree of deference to the decisions of the Commission.
The Appellate Court found that playing a game of basketball was not necessarily “recreational” in this case because of the claimant’s testimony that he was pressured into participating and that he considered it a part of his job. There was sufficient evidence to support the Commission’s finding that “the claimant did not participate in the basketball game for his own ‘diversion’ or to ‘refresh’ or ‘strengthen’ his spirits after toil and that he, therefore, was not engaged in a ‘recreational’ activity under section 11 of the Act at the time of his injury.”
The Appellate Court reinstated the Commission’s decision awarding the claimant benefits under the Act.
Additional cases cited by the Appellate Court in support: