Safety and OSHA News

Employee injured at work before shift: Did he get comp?

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For purposes of workers’ comp benefits, just what constitutes an injury “arising out of and in the course of employment”? A court recently issued an interesting interpretation of that phrase.

Terry Henry worked at Precision Apparatus, a company that builds ambulances and fire trucks.

Each morning before his shift, he’d arrive early to arrange his tools and prep for the workday.

The company also allowed employees to work on their personal vehicles before work, at lunch and after hours.

One morning, Henry arrived early for his usual routine. He hadn’t filled in his time card yet.

A co-worker pulled his personal vehicle into a garage bay to fix a flat tire. Henry heard someone say the vehicle was going to roll off the jack, so he went outside to get a rock to keep the truck from moving.

When he went outside he tripped and broke his leg.

He applied for workers’ comp benefits. The Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission said the injury didn’t occur in the course of work and rejected his claim. Henry appealed.

The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the Commission’s decision. It said helping a co-worker didn’t qualify as work.

However, the court also wrote in its opinion, that some injuries at work before an employee clocks in are eligible for workers’ comp benefits.

“The Commission could have found that [Henry] was working for the employer when he was arranging his tools and at his workbench if the injury had occurred at that time. Had the Commission found a compensable injury occurred at his workbench, but prior to [the start of his shift], we would accept the Commission’s factual determination.”

Bottom line: This state accepts the idea that if an employee is injured “off the clock” while performing tasks in the workplace that benefit the employer, that worker may be eligible for workers’ comp benefits.

What do you think about the decision regarding Henry and the court’s statement on when workers’ comp benefits kick in? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

Cite: Henry v. Precision Apparatus, Missouri Court of Appeals, No. 29772, 2/16/10.

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  • Don M.

    So long as an employee, off the clock, is doing work that benefits the company, it should be covered. But, it must also be sactioned by the company/supervisor and it doesn’t violate any safety policies. For instance, policy may require two people to be in an work area. If an employee came in early, alone, and started working, that would be cause for questioning the coverage, dependent on what the injury actually was.

  • Eric

    I believe the court decision was correct. Although the employee was in early to arrange his tools, etc. for the day, this was not the root cause of the injury. The co-worker pulling his personal vehicle in the garage to repair a flat, as well as the injured worker whom opted to help, were simply using the company’s tools and resources to perform a task not related work and for personal benefit only thus negating workers compensation benefits.

  • James Johnson

    The court’s decision was deficient in that it failed to consider the fact that the Company had granted employees time to work on their personal vehicles prior to work, during lunch, etc. In granting this decision, the Company has to accept responsibility for those employees who are working during that time, also. It cannot release it’s liabilities during the time that the facilities, tools and equipment are being used. Whether the employess show early to setup, plan or prepare for work or the employees are using the shop for personal reasons, the Company is liable. When the shop is open, accessible and usable, the Company is liable.

  • bob

    It looks like the state commision got it right this time, but i would/will also accept their idea that if an employee is off the clock and doing working that benefits the employer (and thats the key phrase) and gets hurt that they should be considered for WC benefits. Have agreat day and GOD BLESS.

  • James Horton Regional Safety Manager

    I’m glad to hear this ruling.. In many cases this is a perk for employees, if he had gotten workers comp. the employer would have takes away the perk of using the shop to work on personal cars or trucks… Many employers don’t allow this type of work to go on because of this fact.. Thanks

  • Gerri Griffin

    Does a home care nurse injured in a car accident on the way to her first patient for the day qualify for workers’ compensation? How about on her way to the office to pick up paperwork for patient care before her day begins?

  • http://Safety/newsalert Kevin Whitacre

    Not sure who should have paid this but someone should have. Either by claim or by suit.
    Comp by not be liable but i think the company sure is. If the policy is to allow employees to work on private vehicles on company property using company resources (i.e., tools, equipment) before, after and during lunch, the company must be assuming the responsibility of any accident on their property. Much like any homeowner. If the claim was not upheld, the injured employee should have filed a civil suit.

  • Don M.

    Gerri – Not quite the same scenario. Unless there are specific company policies, I would say yes and the nurse should be covered. My daughter-in-law was a home care nurse and from the time she left her house and returned for the day, it was considered work hours and thus would have been covered by WC. That said, if she stopped off at a store for personnel business and twisted her ankle somehow, then no.

  • D F

    He was in the service of another employee to prevent injury or death during a period the company allows its employees to use its resourced. What is the differance between this and the injury from a work out or exersize program after hours or on break?

    Should have been covered……

  • D F

    Also look at the folk that got comp in other cases where it happened on the employers property be it a plant or a car.

  • CDR

    This is how it should be. Mr. J. Johnson knows of Court cases that unfortunately, have resulted in just the scenario he described. This is the reason many companies will not allow their workers to use facilities and tools for personal use due to liability issues. I have no respect for courts that will not hold individuals accountable for their own actions. If you are using a tool or facility for personal use and you hurt yourself, YOU are to blame. If this happened at home there would be no issue. Granted faulty equipment may be traced back to a manufacture, but if you work somewhere and know a tool or piece of equipment may not be in good working order (People who work there know, no matter what they may claim in court) and you get hurt, then you are on the hook for your own actions and choices.
    It used to be in many companies that this was a perk for working there. Access to specialty tools, facilities and even heavy equipment to do personal work (Have rented a backhoe lately, OUCH), but due to our litigious society and the “It is everyone else’s fault not mine” attitude the companies have stopped this very generous perk.

  • Don Soileau

    Precision Apparatus may want to consider changing their policy about allowing workers on the property to do personal work on vehicles. I’m sure their insurance company would like to know about that policy.

  • http://N/A MT

    I believe the company should not be liable. We need to think of it as an accident caused by the employees lack of attention while walking wether on company time, property, or on his own time. The fact that the company left their shop open to be used by employees is a risk for that company, but the company did not authorize the work and did not benifit in any way for the work being completed. Too many people are looking for the easy way out instead of taking responsibility for their own actions. And we wonder why or country is so screwed up!!!

  • Jay

    Allowing employees to work on their own vehicles on company property with company equipment may or may not necessarily create company liability. I think the court is correct in ruling they were not liable based on Workers’ Comp statutes. A more reasonable argument for the individual would be whether he has a liability case. If the individual was injured due to the company’s faulty equipment, then the company would have more of a strict liability issue. However, the individual tripping outside does not make the company liable unless the trip was due to an obvious correctable hazard. If no reasonable hazard was present, then the injured employee assumes a reasonable amount of risk when walking outside and the cause of the individual’s injury seems to be primarily his own negligence. Therefore, the company should not be liable from either form of liability.

  • http://www.portofmontana.org Mark Darlow

    The commission got it right this time but the company should ban all personal work on their premises. Too many people will try and make a fast buck. Yes, it was an unfortunate accident but not a work comp issue.

  • Tom Walter

    I agree, if an employee is performing a function to ready themselves for work, work comp should be responsible. This individual was not performing a job related work function so I believe the worker should be covered under the companies liability insurance because the injured worker was on the property of the owner. Thank you for allowing me to vent. Tom

  • Paul Rotkis

    I think he shoyuld have done the “RIGHT THING” and not a BS workman’s comp claim. Why? He wasn’t workin for the employer! And, he was provided a benefit of working on thier own personnel vehicles. That in itself should be incentive enough not to file a claim against your employer that is giving you such a valuable perk and luxury.

    Plus, what in the wide-world did he trip on to cause a fall resulting in a broken leg? More than likely this was a very very small break…unless the guy has a bad case of ostioperosis. Did he trip over his own feet or did he trip over his tool box that he left outside? Or was a it already a known and identified hazard?

    I would accept responsibility and pay for it myself. After all, the employer was gracious enough to provide the guys with the luxury to work on their rigs! Now, more than likely, the company will not allow ANYONE to come in early and not work on their own vehicles.

    Unreal!

  • Robert Nelson

    I agree with the ruling. Allowing employees to work on their personal vehilces is a perk. The company should not be liable for the employees negligence. I say negligence because I’m sure if the employee was working on the employer’s vehicles they would have performed the job safely. They were probably in a hurry and did not behave in the safe manner I’m assuming they were trained to behave. I am making that assumption because there was no mention of any other incidents or the employer operating an unsafe operation or using faulty equipment.

  • metalman

    For this very reason I do not allow employees to work on personal vehicles on company property on or off the the clock. They must remove their vehicle from the parking lot even if it’s on their lunch break. We also will not loan them tools. It sounds harsh but they have no liability if they damage company equipment but could potentially litigate a broken hand because an open end wrench slipped off a bolt.

  • Rhonda

    I believe the court is absolutely correct in this ruling.

  • http://Safety/newsalert Kevin

    Were dropping the ball here. Perk or no perk, once the company ALLOWS this type of non-company work to take place on company property, they are taking a chance. I agree, it’s a great perk to have access to special tools, equipment and a work area to do it, but if they allow it, they must assume the liability that goes with it. What do you think their premiums would be on their insurance if their carrier knew this was going on? I also agree the individual should weigh the fact of what his employer was providing to him and thus, should do the right thing. But I think we all know that 99% of the time, it’s not going to happen. I don’t think the injured employee should, but if he sued he would most likely win in todays climate.

  • http://safetynewsalert.com Ken Williams

    Mark D., got it right…and they ought to take the gumball machine away because this guy can’t walk and ….
    Kevin is correct also, if allowed, it should be covered. So, because of this person everyone else will lose out. What a shame. WC has really taken some wild turns over the years, but, I am glad it worked for the employer this time.

    Bangkok Doc

  • Tony

    This is a prime example why employers do not want to “let employees work on personal items” or do anything else for employees. Even though they technically won in this case I am sure they had to spend alot of HR resources taking care of this issue. Society trying to blame the big bad employer for everything. It is one of the reasons our company doesnt do parties for us anymore. Our society and people trying to take advantage of everything and then we complain that companies dont care and dont do anything for you.

  • Aïda

    I think a company is asking for trouble letting employees work on their own cars while on company premises. As is shown in this case, things can go wrong while doing non-work related mechanic work.

  • Christi

    I believe the commission is right in it’s decision. The employees were not furthering the business. The employer should take this perk away. The risk of accident and then suit is obviously there. Too bad this happened, it was a nice perk.

  • http://www.safetynewsalert.com Keith

    I think you’ve all missed the point with the extraneous information being supplied in the article. If I walk from the parking lot to the shop for my normal start of shift, and I trip and break my leg, is it a worker’s comp claim? If I get to the shop, then have to walk back out to my car for something, does that change your answer? What if I am going back to my car for a personal reason, not work related? My basic question here is: Does the reason why I walk back out into the parking lot really matter?

    Now, was he in an area that was unsafe at the time he injured himself; somewhere that he would not have normally been allowed or needed to go? For example, he climbs down a rocky ravine to get the rock.

    I think there’s more to the story and the accident than is contained in the short blurb here.

  • Paul Rotkis

    Let’s ask the simple (5) why’s? With the above info, many of the (5) why’s cannot be answered.