Annals of Workers Comp: A Fall from the Ball
Yoga balls are an interesting innovation in office furniture: they promise to "improve overall well-being and provide an active outlet for having to sit for long periods of time." By requiring the sitter to balance on the large, curved surface, it helps boost energy and possibly increases productivity by focusing and engaging the mind. OK, it's not for everyone, but those who do it are enthusiastic supporters.
Which brings us to Heidi Migliori, an administrative analyst at Northwest Arkansas Community College. She was at work on July 28, 2016, sitting in a conventional chair, when she apparently had the notion of switching to the yoga ball which resided in a co-worker's office. She moved the ball and placed it in front of her desk and resumed working. At some point she reached back to retrieve a book and fell off the ball, hitting her head on the desk. She suffered a contusion and possibly a concussion, underwent numerous tests and was out of work for about two weeks.
While surely a minor incident in the scheme of things, we must confront the inevitable question: is an injury when falling off a yoga ball compensable? The case winded its way through the Arkansas system and was finally resolved at the appeals court level, where the judges concluded that the fall had caused an injury and that Migliori's symptom of dizziness was related to that fall. They deemed the claim compensable, awarding medical benefits, temporary total disability benefits and a recovery of attorney fees. (Must have been a slow day for an attorney to take up a case of this magnitude.)
Some readers may be moderately outraged that an employee could remove a yoga ball from a colleague's office (without permission?) and put it to use, fall off the ball and still collect workers comp. For such a claim not to be compensable, the employer would have to establish specific guidelines for the use of yoga balls: this would require prior approval for any employee using the equipment and perhaps a little training in the art of sitting on an unstable surface. Use would be limited to employees who have been "certified" in yoga-balling. Notice would have to be given and documented for all employees, alerting them to the need for approval prior to use of the balls. That's a lot of work to avoid one rare claim!
In all likelihood, Northern Arkansas Community College has simply moved this particular ball back into the office where it belongs. After all, there have been serious injuries involving conventional office chairs slipping out from under workers. Office settings are usually pretty close to risk free, but dangers lurk in unexpected places.
Senior Workers Compensation Consultant