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Iowa Supreme Court Says Supervisor Is Not Protected When Protecting Injured Employees

The Iowa Supreme Court considered the firing of a supervisor, who intervened when injured workers he was supervising were not being treated fairly. In Ballalatak v. All Iowa Agriculture Association, 781 N.W. 2d 272 (Iowa 2101), filed on April 16, 2010, the Iowa Supreme Court noted that injured workers who are terminated because they pursue a workers’ compensation claim can pursue a claim against the employer for reinstatement and back pay. However, the Court refused to extend that same protection to a supervisor who advocates for employees he supervises, when he thinks that the workers were not having their workers’ compensation claims handled fairly.

The protection for workers was first recognized in 1988, in Springer v. Weeks & Leo Co., 429 N.W.2d 558, 560 (1988), based on Section 85.18 of the Iowa Code, a portion of the workers’ compensation statute, which prevents employers from using any device that serves to unfairly deprive workers of workers’ compensation benefits. The Court in Springer noted that workers have a right to pursue work injury claims, that an employer is barred from any device to deny workers’ compensation benefits, and that filing a workers’ compensation claim is protected under Section 85.18.

Mr. Ballalatak asked the Court to find that Section 85.18, or the recently developed case law in wrongful termination, protects him from retaliatory discharge as well, citing the case law protecting persons from discharge when “(1) exercising a statutory right or privilege, (2) refusing to commit an unlawful act, (3) performing a statutory obligation, and (4) reporting a statutory violation.” See Jasper v. H. Nizam, Inc., 764 N.W.2d 751, 762 (Iowa 2009).

The Iowa Supreme Court simply refused to take the leap from protecting workers who have been subjected to retaliation, to supervisors or others who have attempted to intervene. One must wonder if a co-worker who tells an adjustor something that they don’t want to hear can be terminated. Presumably, a co-worker who testifies in a hearing would have some protection from retaliation, while “performing a statutory obligation” to tell the truth, but Ballalatak may raise questions on that point.


Iowa: Employee Bowling League Injury Not Work-Related

Extensively citing Larson’s definitive work on Workers’ Compensation, the Iowa Court of Appeals found that an employee who is injured in a company bowling event is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, reversing the finding of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner. On June 11, 2005, while participating in a bowling event organized by the employee activity committee of Gazette Communications, Robert Powell was injured, and asserted that this was a work injury. The Iowa Supreme Court had previously held that a heart attack in the course of an employee basketball league was a covered work injury.


Powell relied on a 1984 decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, Briar Cliff College v. Campolo, 360 N.W.2d 91, 94 (Iowa 1984), which found that a fatal heart attack sustained by a Professor at Briar Cliff College while playing intramural basketball on college property was work-related. In that case, the college administration had encouraged college faculty to take part in intramural sports, to interact with students. Relying on “Larson’s business-related benefit test,” articulated in Larson’s Workers’ Compensation, the Iowa Supreme Court found that Professor Campolo’s participation in the intramural game provided a direct benefit to Briar Cliff College, in the recruitment and retention of students.


The Campolo decision and heart attacks at work in Iowa are discussed in more detail in an article of the Drake Law Review, “INSURANCE LAW ANNUAL: When Are Heart Attacks Compensable Injuries Under Iowa Workers’ Compensation Law?”, 49 Drake L. Rev. 621 (2001). The Commissioner relied on the Campolo decision to award benefits. However, in the present case, the Iowa Court of Appeals distinguished that decision, noting that Gazette Communications did not derive any benefit other than increased employee morale. The Iowa Court of Appeals applied the standard set out at 2 Arthur Larson & Lex K. Larson, Larson’s Worker’s Compensation Law § 22.01, at 22-2 (2010), that the activity giving rise to the injury must provide some specific benefit to the employer, beyond “the intangible value of improvement of employee health and morale that is common to all kinds of recreation and social life.”