The Interplay Between Ted Lasso and OSHA

WARNING: Spoiler alert! STOP reading now if you do not want to read spoilers which are used as examples to illustrate points in the blog article.

As viewers know, Ted Lasso is a feel good show about an American college football coach who is hired to coach AFC Richmond, an English soccer team. On its face, one might wonder how Ted Lasso relates at all to OSHA but as we follow Ted through his journey, it raises some interesting OSHA considerations.

Mental illness. During an important soccer match, Ted leaves the game and fails to return. At first, he tells everyone he left due to a stomachache. Later we learn that Ted’s abrupt departure was due to a serious panic attack. During the scene, it is clear that the high-pressure game conditions are at least, in part, what triggers the panic attack. However, we also discover that Ted is going through, like all of us, his own personal struggles which include coping with the suicide of his father, an ongoing divorce and being separated from his son in the United States while coaching in London.

The first issue is whether the panic attack is recordable as an illness which requires inquiry into distinct issues. Under OSHA’s recordkeeping rule, an injury/illness must meet general recording criteria to be recordable, i.e., it must result in death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid or loss of consciousness. The episode does not provide us enough information to determine whether Ted’s panic attack resulted in days away from work but OSHA states “restricted work” occurs when as a result of a work-related illness, an employer keeps the employee from performing one or more of the routine functions of his job or from working the full workday that he otherwise would have been scheduled to work. Here, Ted ran off himself as opposed to his employer restricting his work so the definition does not apply.

In addition, OSHA’s recordkeeping rule specifically addresses mental illness. The rule states mental illness will not be considered work-related unless the employee voluntarily provides the employer with an opinion from a physician or other licensed health care professional with appropriate training and experience stating that the employee has a mental illness that is work-related. For this reason, Ted’s panic attack would not be recordable under the facts provided. 29 C.F.R. § 1904.5(b)(2). Indeed, OSHA has issued the following Q&A:

Q: An employee comes in to work and they are extremely distraught and stressed due to personal matters outside of work. While at work, the employee has an anxiety attack and faints. Would this be considered an OSHA recordable?
A: Injuries and illnesses that result solely from non-work related events or exposures are not recordable under the exception at 1904.5(b)(2)(ii). Mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorder are recordable only if the employee voluntarily provides the employer with an opinion from a physician or other licensed health care professional with appropriate training and experience (psychiatrist, psychologist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, etc.) stating that the employee has a mental illness that is work-related, and the case meets one or more of the general recording criteria.

Here, it seems unlikely through the counseling sessions we watch that the Team’s psychologist, Sharon Fieldstone, would agree that the panic attack was work-related. What if instead of a panic attack, Ted had a heart attack which resulted in hospitalization? The following Q&A would be instructive on this analysis:

Q: An employee died of a heart attack during working hours. He died while sitting on the lobby talking with a co-worker. The employee has a history of hypertension and high blood pressure. Is this case recordable?
A: If the case is wholly caused by non-work factors, then it is not work-related and will not be recorded in the OSHA records. If work contributed to the illness in some way, for example, the work is strenuous or the work environment is very hot, then it would be work-related and recordable.

This analysis is a tougher call. Although we learn about Ted’s personal struggles, it is also clear from the scene that the high stress game conditions seemed to contribute, in some part, to the hypothetical heart attack making it more likely than not that it is a recordable event.

Workplace Violence. In the show, Roy is a hard-nosed coach for the Team who has a temper. There are different scenes where Roy physically attacks team members. For example, in one episode Roy head butt’s Jamie after a win because he [Jamie] told Keeley that he still loved her. Of course, Roy did it so he could then hug Jamie to celebrate. If Jamie’s injury from the head butt meets the general recordkeeping criteria, e.g., an injury requiring medical treatment beyond first aid, would it need to be recorded? Yes, the general rule is that all injuries occurring to employees on the employer’s premises and/or during work hours are presumed to be work-related including but not limited to fist fights and similar workplace violence incidents. See August 18, 1993 Standard Interpretation (fist fight occurring during work is recordable if it results in days away from work).

Off-Site Injuries & Illnesses. There is a scene where Ted takes the Team to visit the sewers of London to learn a lesson about letting “smelly” things go. During the scene, players can be seen holding their noses and acting nauseous which certainly makes sense. Although no one appears to actually get sick, what if one of the players did get ill from breathing in the sewage fumes? Would the illness be recordable? Again, if the illness meets the general recording criteria, it is well established that injuries and illness would be recordable even if they occurred away from the employer’s establishment if the employee is engaged in work activities in the interest of the employer. Here, the players were all instructed to go to the sewer by Ted as a coaching exercise so clearly they were there in the interest of the employer and such an illness would be recordable.

However, what if the Team was asked by Ted to participate in a charitable activity on a voluntary basis and a team member was injured at the event, would this be recordable? Here, as long as the charitable event was completely voluntary, it would not be recordable. See October 5, 2020 Standard Interpretation stating that injuries that result solely from voluntary participation in recreational activities are generally not considered work-related. The interpretation does caution that if the activities are not purely voluntary or are conducted at the direction of the employer, it would be considered work-related. Knowing how persuasive Ted can be particularly over his team members, there would likely be some fact issues to explore before this determination can be made.

Jurisdiction. Does OSHA have jurisdiction to enforce standards for employees working abroad? In the show, Ted is hired by and works for an English soccer team, so clearly OSHA would have no jurisdiction. What if Ted worked for an American soccer team but was working abroad? The answer remains the same as OSHA’s jurisdiction is limited to the geographic coverage in the United States and its territories.

As another twist, let’s assume Ted Lasso was set in the United States. Would OSHA have jurisdiction to regulate the safety and health of the soccer team, i.e., does OSHA enforce standards in professional sports? A September 12, 2008 Standard Interpretation addressed this issue in the professional baseball setting and opined that the issue turns on whether professional baseball players are considered independent contractors or employees. In the interpretation, OSHA essentially punted by saying this determination must be made on a case-by-case basis after considering all of the circumstances affecting the relationship between the teams and their players and applying the common law factors. However, OSHA also stated that “in most cases,” OSHA does not take enforcement action with regard to professional athletes. Given that professional baseball players and all the other major sports in the United States are unionized, there is little doubt that the players are legally employees. However, to date, OSHA has consistently stayed away from regulating professional sports. There are certainly stakeholders that continue to argue OSHA should though.

Go AFC Richmond!

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