The court's review is limited to questions of law the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry (Commissioner) has certified. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 672. Although the court defers to the Commissioner's interpretation of Vermont's Workers' Compensation Act, the court will not affirm an interpretation that is unjust or unreasonable. The court looks to the whole statute, its effects and consequences, and the reason and spirit of the law to determine whether the Commissioner's interpretation conflicts with the legislature's intent.
The employee and co-worker engaged in a staple gun fight during some idle time at their jobs and the employee received an injury to his eye. He filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, which was allowed by the commissioner, and the employer challenged the decision.
Are the injuries of an employee obtained during work but while engaged in horseplay compensable injuries under the Vermont’s Workers’ Compensation Act?
On appeal, the court reversed and held that the injury did not occur during the course of his employment. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 618 defined compensable injuries as those received by accident arising out of and in the course of employment. Because the employee was engaged in horseplay he could only recover if he could show that the injury occurred in the course of employment, which, in turn, depended on the extent of the employee's deviation from his work duties. The incident was unrelated to any legitimate use of the staple guns and the obvious dangerous activity and the absence of any connection between his duties as a salesperson and the horseplay indicated the accident occurred during a substantial deviation from work duties.