Well, it depends. .
Generally, a workers comp subscriber employer is only liable for its employees’ injuries sustained in the “course and scope of employment,” defined by the Act as: 1) “an activity of any kind or character that has to do with and originates in the work, business, trade, or profession of the employer,” and 2) “performed by an employee while engaged in or about the furtherance of the affairs or business of the employer.” Moreover, employers can also assert the “recreational and social activity doctrine” defense if the injury arose out of voluntary participation in an off-duty recreational, social, or athletic activity that did not constitute part of the employee’s work-related duties, and was not a reasonable expectancy of, or expressly or impliedly required by, the employment.
So how could participating in yoga classes ever fall within the course and scope of employment for anyone beyond a yoga instructor? Answer = the exception, of course!
Under Texas case law, an employer-sponsored recreational or social activity is within the course and scope of employment if one of three factors is shown: 1) employer expressly or impliedly required participation; 2) employer derived some benefit from the activity other than employee health and morale; or 3) the injury occurred at the site, or within the immediate vicinity of employment while the employee was required to hold him or herself in readiness for work and the activity took place pursuant to the employer’s express or implied permission.
So how can an employer provide health conscious incentives and fringe benefits to its employers without opening itself up to additional exposure for work-related injuries? A conscious employer should:
- Ensure that participation is completely voluntary. While it may seem like a good idea to encourage employees to participate in yoga classes offered at their place of employment, Texas courts have interpreted “encouragement” as “impliedly required” in several cases.
- Refrain from inviting customers or clients to recreational or social events which are athletic in nature or involve increased physical activity. If customers or clients are present, the courts are more likely to find that the employer derived some benefit from the employee’s participation in the activity beyond the health and morale of the employees.
- Avoid requiring employees to be available for work during participation in recreational and social activities sponsored by the employer. Keep in mind, if the injured employee can present evidence that he or she would have been required to return to work or perform regular work duties if instructed to do so by the employer, the courts will generally find that the employee was holding him or herself in readiness to work, and thus, remained in the course and scope of employment even while participating in the recreational activity.
So, to definitively answer the question presented above— if the yoga classes were held after work hours and employees could not be called back to work, participation in the classes was entirely voluntary and employees were not encouraged or coerced to participate, clients/customers were not invited to attend the classes and the employer gained no benefit from their participation other than the promotion of their health and morale— then the employer might not be responsible for an employee’s yoga injury. However, even then, it would likely be a fact question for the Division of Workers’ Compensation Hearing Officer to decide.