What are the potential effects of the Northwestern NLRB decision on New York compensation claims?

Monday, 23 June 2014 By Cory A. Decresenza
Prior entries to Goldberg Segalla’s Sports and Entertainment Law Insider blog have discussed in detail some of the legal and practical issues for college football programs made by the recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision regarding Northwestern University football players. (Recent blog entries have analyzed the ramifications on university athletic programs and student-athletes, as well as the responses of coaches and players.)
In addition to the civil liability issues discussed in those articles, particularized problems would arise in the workers’ compensation context in the event that student-athletes are found to be employees entitled to those benefits. A few of the issues that immediately stand out in New York claims would be:
  • Wages: A basic building block of any workers’ compensation claim, disputes would certainly arise as to what an injured student-athlete’s “average weekly wage” is. Wages are defined by the New York Workers’ Compensation Law as “the money rate at which the service rendered is recompensed under the contract of hiring in force at the time of the accident, including the reasonable value of board, rent, housing, lodging, or similar advantage received from the employer.” Under this definition, the logistical difficulties of calculating average weekly wage become apparent — what is includable in “wages,” including scholarship money, meal plans, boarding, and travel accommodations would certainly be up for dispute.

  • Part-Time vs. Full-Time Status: Also important to the calculation of average weekly wage and benefits would be the status of a student-athlete as part-time or full-time. In general, a New York employer is required to keep track of the number of days an employee works. Certainly, legal disputes could arise as to what constitutes a day worked, since this could include practices, game days, workouts (voluntary or involuntary), team meetings, and off-season practices or workouts. Whether each category of team activity would constitute a day worked could have a significant impact on the wage and benefit analysis of an injured student-athlete.

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Cory A. Decresenza

Cory A. Decresenza

Cory DeCresenza is an associate in Goldberg Segalla’s Syracuse office who concentrates on workers’ compensation litigation. Cory is a former clerk for the New York State Appellate Division, Fourth Department.
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