May 12, 2010


by David W. Willis, Esq. and Melissa B. Whitman, Esq.

When are practical jokes in the workplace not funny? When injury results and the employee files a workers' compensation claim. In Georgia, when a nonparticipating employee is injured from a co-worker's "horseplay" the injured worker may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. On the other hand, an employee who participates in horseplay and becomes injured in the process is probably not eligible for workers' compensation benefits.

There is no bright line definition of "horseplay" to define when an employee is acting outside the scope of his or her employment. As a result, Georgia courts decide what constitutes horseplay on a case-by-case basis. For example, workers' compensation benefits were denied when an employee was injured while engaged in a "finger wrestling match" with another worker (Universal Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Georgia Auto. Dealers Assoc., 182 Ga. App. 595, 356 S.E.2d 686 (1987)). However, benefits were awarded to an employee who, after he stopped engaging in horseplay, was struck by a spitball propelled by a co-worker and became injured. (Baird v. Travelers Ins. Co., 98 Ga. App. 882, 107 S.E.2d 579 (1959)).

What if the employer is aware of the horseplay? An Ohio appeals court recently decided an employer was liable for an employee’s injury when he sustained a neck injury during a river canoe outing, while attending a company team-building event. The employer argued the employee's actions were horseplay. However, the court found that injuries occurring during horseplay are compensable when the employer was "aware of and consented to" the actions which resulted in injury. Georgia has not yet specifically addressed this issue. However, in one older case, Knight v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 131 Ga. App. 409, 233 S.E.2d 453 (1977), the Court of Appeals denied a workers’ compensation claim of an employee who was injured after a co-worker pulled his chair out from under him at work, despite the fact other documented horseplay incidents had occurred at the workplace. Whether Georgia and other jurisdictions begin looking closer at employers' knowledge and/or acquiescence to behaviors of their employees remains to be seen.

If you have questions or comments, please contact your David & Rosetti attorney at 404-446-4488 or by visiting our website at Nothing contained in this blog should be construed as legal advice or opinion on specific facts. For editorial comments or suggestions, please contact David W. Willis at (404) 446-4491 or by email at

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