Don’t Let This Happen: Paying Umpires Results in Worker’s Comp Lawsuit
At Little League® International in Williamsport, Pa., and at our Regional Offices, calls and emails come in all year long about different situations that are happening at some of our 7,000 local leagues. Many of these calls and emails inform us of some very positive initiatives spearheaded by our millions of volunteers. However, there are also negative situations.
“Don’t Let This Happen to Your League” details a real-world scenario, how it has impacted a league, and how you might learn from it.
The names have been omitted in the following scenario, but the situation is real.
During a Junior League Baseball game, the base umpire is struck in the head with a ball thrown from the catcher. Due to the severity of the injury, he is unable to continue in the game. The umpire sustains a visible contusion, and in the coming days, experiences headaches and dizziness. After visiting his personal physician, the umpire is diagnosed with a concussion. In the coming months, he is unable to officiate any Little League games, as the symptoms related to the concussion do not subside. The continuing issue also hampers his ability to perform his professional responsibilities. Seven months later, the umpire, who had routinely received cash payments from the league for each of the games he officiated, sues the local league for the injury which he claimed resulted in lost wages. The basis for the lawsuit was the umpire’s assumption that he was a contracted employee since he was paid for working the games, and is entitled to workers’ compensation even though the league did not have a written contract with the umpire, nor provided a 1099 tax form as an employee.
More than two full years after the injury occurred, the case went before the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board. Following deliberation, the Board ruled that the umpire was entitled to a financial payout from the league in the amount of the average of monthly salary he would have earned during the months he was not medically cleared to work. The league was responsible for several thousands of dollars and did not have workers’ compensation insurance to cover the Compensation Board-ordered award. The lawsuit was also not covered by the local league’s insurance. The league took out a business loan to offset the fiscal shortfall. In voting to approve the loan, it also decided to increase the player participation fee by an additional $50. The backlash from the participation fee increase cost the league numerous players and volunteers over the next three seasons.
The most effective steps for a local league or district to avoid this sort of situation is to not compensate umpires for what is expected to be a volunteer position. Recruiting umpires can often be a challenge for local leagues, but paying for game officials typically does not buy a better quality of officiating. If the pool of umpires is not strong, it is the league or district’s responsibility to recruit, train, and retain umpires. Training and evaluating umpires is critical when recruiting and retaining these game officials beyond the current season. If payment is the only option, leagues are encouraged to purchase worker’s compensation insurance, place a Board member (treasurer, secretary, division vice president, etc.) in charge of properly recording each payment, and issuing a 1099 Internal Revenue Service form at the end of each season (if applicable). Additional details regarding the difference between a volunteer, independent contractor and/or employee as well as guidance with the proper tax and insurance requirements leagues may need to follow, is available on Little League University.