Theodore Cornblatt, a workers' compensation attorney in Baltimore, notes that the location of the game is important. "If the game is held on the employer's premises, such as a pick-up game during a coffee break, it's probably covered [by workers' comp,]" he says. In particular, if the employer knows that games have been taking place on the premises and hasn't objected, the injuries are typically covered.
Another critical factor concerns whether the employee was compensated for playing or directed to play by the employer. In Illinois, for instance, the workers' compensation statute specifically exempts volunteer recreation programs--unless the employer assigns or orders the employee to participate. "If a company doesn't want to be responsible under workers' compensation law, [it shouldn't] direct employees to go to company outings," says Chicago workers' compensation attorney Thomas Lichten.
In one such instance, a temporary employee in Oklahoma was assigned to a publishing company, where she worked for nine months. Her supervisors encouraged her to participate in the annual "Corporate Challenge," an athletic competition among local companies. A higher-ranking employee recruited her to play on the women's basketball team, and a co-worker signed her up for the tug-of-war. Rather than jeopardize her placement with the company, she agreed to participate. When her knee was injured in the tug-of-war game, she applied for workers' comp--and got it. Both the trial court and the Oklahoma Court of Appeals noted that the employer had induced her to participate.