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Personal Trainers and Workers' Compensation Benefits

Requiring or encouraging trainers to work out at your facility could result in workers' comp claims.

Many Fitness facilities use personal trainers to provide services to members. Sometimes the trainers are employees of these facilities, but often they are so-called "independent contractors," operating on a per diem or hourly basis. Regardless of their true status as employees or independent contractors, questions arise as to whether certain "normal" benefits are extended to such trainers.

In a recent case from the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, an employee personal trainer was injured while working out at the facility. He applied for workers' compensation benefits, but was denied. An examination of this case may shed some light on your policies.

The case of the ruptured biceps

In this case (Malouin, No. 2006-394 [N.H. 06/13/2007]), the facts indicate that the personal trainer was employed by the facility for approximately 10 years. He was a salaried personal trainer who was also director of the facility's medical outreach program. In addition to his salary, he also received a commission. The other personal trainers working in the facility were paid on an hourly basis. However, all personal trainers were permitted - but not required - to perform personal workouts at the facility. Personal workouts were either suggested or encouraged by the facility as a way of "attracting additional clients."

In 2004, the personal trainer in question was scheduled to finish work at 5 p.m. Toward the end of his shift, he began a personal workout while he intermittently filled out payroll sheets. However, at approximately 4:45 p.m., while using a strength machine, he suffered a rupture of his left biceps' tendon, and ultimately sought workers' compensation benefits. The Workers' Compensation Board of New Hampshire rejected his claim that this was a work-related injury, and the trainer ultimately appealed to the court system for a determination of this issue.

Under the New Hampshire Workers' Compensation statute, a personal injury, as used within the law, excludes accidental injuries "resulting from participation in athletic/recreational activities, on or off premises, unless the employee reasonably expected, based upon the employer's instruction or policy, that such participation was a condition of employment or was required for a promotion, increased compensation or continued employment." The Board determined, in this case, that the workout that the trainer was performing at the time of his injury was not required for his "continued employment, promotion or increased compensation." As a consequence, the trainer's claim for workers' compensation benefits was denied.

The appeal

On appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, that court, over the dissenting opinions of two other supreme court justices, determined that the trainer's "participation in his personal workout was encompassed by the term 'condition of employment,'" and concluded that the trainer "reasonably expected that on-premises personal exercise workout of a salaried personal trainer at a health and sports club, conducted during the course of his normal working hours for an employer that both permitted and encouraged its personal trainers to perform such workouts while they were on duty in order to provide a direct benefit to the club by securing additional clients, was encompassed by the term 'condition of employment' for the purpose ... [of New Hampshire law]." As a consequence, the determination of the Workers' Compensation Board was reversed.

Determine your policy

As a consequence of this decision, facilities should be mindful that when they require, or even encourage, workout activities by personal trainers at their facilities in order to "attract clients," and an injury results to one of those trainers, workers' compensation benefits might be awarded. While such a determination may be dependent on the particular nuances of state law, such findings may well increase the "costs" associated with providing trainers to members. Perhaps a written policy specifying that personal workouts are not related to or are not a condition of employment might resolve the issue. Individualized legal advice would seem to be warranted.
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