Is an Off-Premises Exercise Injury Compensable When Participating in an Employer Wellness Program?
In the recent Watt case, the Oregon Court of Appeals considered compensability of a claim where the worker was exercising off premises as part of an employer sponsored wellness program and was injured. Watt v. SAIF, 317 OrApp 105 (1/20/22). Claimant worked a desk job. She participated in an employer sponsored wellness program that encouraged employees to walk on breaks. Claimant wore a device linked to the employer wellness program that tracked her daily steps. The employer paid employees an incentive of $17.50/month to participate in the wellness program. An exercise room was available in the employer’s building for workers to be active during their breaks.
During a paid break, claimant was on a walk off the employer’s premises. Claimant was one block away from work when she tripped on a cracked sidewalk and was injured. Claimant appealed the denial of her claim. To determine compensability, the Court considered whether claimant had sufficiently proved both that her injury “arises out of” and “in the course of” employment.
Under the “in the course of” prong, the Court applied the personal comfort doctrine. This doctrine indicates that employer permitted activities incidental to but not directly involved in the performance of employment tasks are “in the course” of employment. Claimant’s injury was found to be within the personal comfort doctrine because the walk activity was permitted, incidental, and not a departure from the employment relationship. The Court rules claimant had successfully satisfied the “in the course of” prong.
The Court then considered whether claimant proved the “arises out of” prong to prove compensability. When analyzing the “arises out of” prong, employment risks are categorized as employment related, personal, or neutral. The cracked sidewalk was deemed a “neutral risk.” An injury resulting from a neutral risk is compensable when the conditions of employment put the worker in a position to be injured. While the employer encouraged activity, the Court found the employer had not mandated claimant’s walk, directed her route, or created circumstances that necessitated she leave the employer’s premises for personal comfort. It was determined there was nothing about claimant’s employment which exposed claimant to the risk of being injured during her walk off the employer’s premises. As a result, claimant had failed to prove the “arises out of” prong and her claim was deemed not compensable.
Compensability cases require careful investigation of the facts and current applicable case law. Have a question regarding defending an Oregon workers’ compensation claim? Please contact me at or directly at (503)412-3101.
Posted by Anna McFaul.