Chaperone’s Injury Field Trip For School Is Covered By Workers Compensation

In Karen Sikorski’s Case, SJC-10481A (12/11/09). the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that a Massachusetts public school teacher is entitled to workers’ compensation for an injury she suffered while chaperoning a school-sponsored ski trip, even though she volunteered for the assignment and the injury occurred while on the slopes.

The SJC rejected the City’s argument that the teacher was ineligible for coverage because she volunteered to chaperone the field trip and because she injured herself in the course of “recreational activity.” To determine whether an injury is entitled to coverage, the Court said that several factors must be weighed, including: (1) the customary nature of the activity; (2) the employer’s encouragement or subsidization of the activity; (3) the extent to which the employer managed or directed the activity; (4) the presence of pressure or compulsion to participate; and (5) the employer’s expected or actual benefit from the employee’s participation.

The SJC had little difficulty in affirming that this teacher’s chaperoning of this field trip met the standard for workers’ compensation coverage. First, teachers customarily served as chaperones for ski club field trips and acted as teachers while they did. Second, the City encouraged teachers to participate as ski club chaperones. Third and finally, the ski club trips benefit the City by furthering the school’s broad educational mission, as confirmed by the City’s financial support for the ski club, the advisors and the chaperones.

Injuries that arise from recreational activity normally is not subject to workers’ compensation. However, the Court concluded that this situation did not fit within that exception because the teacher was required to be on the ski slopes supervising the students, and her injury occurred during her performance of that function.

This case is a helpful victory for employees who assume additional responsibilities for the employer, even if it involves a fun activity such as a ski field trip. The principles underlying this decision likely will provide useful guidance in the context of G.L. c.41, §111F claims for police officers and firefighters. But one should be careful not to read this decision too broadly – injuries that occur during a voluntary activity that do not relate to work place functions, such as a voluntary social gathering or golf fundraiser, may not necessarily be covered. If injured in a non-traditional work function, you should contact your union representative, Sandulli Grace, PC, or another legal representative to discuss your options for relief.

HRD Holds Public Hearing On Proposal To Change Rules To Allow Banding

Massachusetts Chief Human Resources Officer Paul Dietl today held a public hearing on his proposed changes to the Personnel Administrator Rules (PARs)(as previously reported, you can see the proposed changes here. While there was discussion of the other proposed changes, the majority of the hearing, and of the comments, was to the proposal to allow for the banding of scores on police and fire promotional examinations. (You may remember that HRD needs to change its rules before banding based on the injunction Sandulli Grace obtained last spring). The overwhelming message to HRD, delivered by unions, Fire and Police Chiefs, and interested individuals was “DON’T BAND!”

Prior to public comments on banding, HRD testing expert Jay Silva from testing company EB Jacobs gave a description of banding. According to Silva, using banding allows the test givers to eliminate variances in test scores that are not actually reflective of knowledge or ability. According the Silva and HRD, banding is intended to make the process “fairer” for test takers. He concluded that banding ultimately allows the municipality and/or chief to make a decision that allows for a “better fit” for the individual department.

Of course, here in Massachusetts we know that the officer who is a “better fit” will, no doubt, be the officer who is favored by management, or makes the political donation to the appropriate candidate, or…. A “better fit” will not be a better manager, nor does allowing a town to pick the “better fit” comport with the Civil Service mandate of merit based promotional decisionmaking.

Following HRD’s presentation, the public comment period commenced. 100% of the folks who took the time to go to the hearing voiced UNIFORM OPPOSITION to banding. State Senator (and former firefighter) Ken Donnelly spoke eloquently and movingly about how banding will eviscerate the preference for veterans that c. 31 requires. BPPA President Tom Nee spoke about how banding will allow favoritism to overcome objective criteria of merit. MCOP In House Counsel (and Waltham Sgt.) Tim King discussed how banding will undermine confidence in the testing procedure. PFFM President Bob McCarthy spoke passionately about how banding will undermine the authority of fire and police commanders – who make life and death decisions about those who work under them. And the comments continued, from representatives of the IBPO, the MPA, other Fire Departments, and individual officers and test takers – all unified in their opposition to banding. Perhaps most surprising, and heartening, a representative of the Fire Chief’s Association stood to oppose banding – noting that Fire Chiefs do not want discretion when it would undermine confidence in the system.

To their credit, the representatives from HRD, from Chief Dietl to General Counsel John Marra and Deputy General Counsel Michele Heffernan, were respectful and open to all the submissions. They indicated that they will take all of the comments into consideration prior to issuing the final propose rule changes. Those changes will then go to the Civil Service Commission for review, where we will again request to be heard. As always, we’ll keep you posted. (And if you don’t know, you can join our mailing list – just fill in your e-mail address in the box in the upper left corner of this page. By joining, you will get an e-mail every time a new blog entry is posted.)