• California Appellate Court Remands Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board Finding that Officer’s Off-Duty Exercise Injury Was Not Compensable
  • July 7, 2014
  • Law Firm: Sutherland Asbill Brennan LLP - Washington Office
  • On January 9, 2012, a correctional sergeant injured his knee while at home performing jumping jacks as part of his normal warm-up routine prior to more strenuous exercise. The correctional sergeant reported his injury as work related because it took place while exercising to maintain the physical condition required by his employer, a California county sheriff’s department. A departmental order required him and all correctional officers to maintain themselves in good physical condition to handle the strenuous physical contacts often encountered. However, despite the requirement to maintain good physical condition, the officers were not provided time to exercise during working hours, nor were they provided any guidance on the types of exercises or activities considered appropriate. A worker’s compensation judge concluded that the injury was compensable, finding that the correctional sergeant had a subjective belief that the department expected him to exercise and that such a belief was objectively reasonable. The workers’ compensation appeals board disagreed that the belief was objectively reasonable and annulled the worker’s compensation judge’s decision. The Court of Appeal of California, Third Appellate District issued a writ of review.

    The legal standard that must be met to find a belief objectively reasonable requires that there be a substantial nexus between the employer’s expectations or requirements and the specific off-duty activity in which the employee engaged. The court found that this standard was met, specifically citing the following: the Department required that the officers maintain good physical condition, the Department did not provide an opportunity to exercise during working hours, a warm up regime of calisthenics would be expected prior to any strenuous exercise; and jumping jacks are one of the most common such calisthenics. Based on these findings, the court annulled the workers’ compensation appeals board’s decision and remanded for proceedings consistent with the court’s opinion.