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Pastoral activities not volunteer work for comp purposes


The church pastoral activities of a workers compensation claimant are not volunteer work for the purposes of continued disability benefits, an appellate court ruled Thursday.

In Matter of Roberts v. Eastman Kodak Co., the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Third Department unanimously held that a worker’s pastoral activities did not amount to a violation of workers compensation law.

Shirley Roberts worked for Eastman Kodak Co. as a building services worker. She was injured while pulling bags of garbage from a dumpster in 1989, was classified as having a permanent partial disability and continuously received benefits.

In November 2017, Eastman Kodak and its third-party administrator requested a hearing to present evidence of Ms. Roberts’ alleged violation of workers compensation law. Eastman Kodak produced video surveillance showing Ms. Roberts performing religious activity as a church pastor, which the company said conflicted with her prior representations that she was not engaged in volunteer work. However, a workers compensation law judge held that the surveillance was insufficient to show that Ms. Roberts had violated workers comp law and directed Eastman Kodak to continue weekly payments. The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed the decision, crediting Ms. Roberts’ testimony that her activity was spiritual worship, not reportable volunteer work.

Eastman Kodak appealed, arguing that Ms. Roberts’ church activities — which included providing sermons, counseling parishioners, assisting with weekly Bible study and performing Baptisms — constituted work or volunteer work.

The appellate court, however, found that Ms. Roberts’ church activities were “more akin to religious worship and the practice of her faith” than volunteer work “to be reported to the employer for purposes of workers' compensation benefits.” The court, therefore, held that Ms. Roberts “did not make a misrepresentation of a material fact to obtain workers' compensation benefits.”