Safety and OSHA News

Injured leaving union meeting: Can she get workers’ comp?

An employer provided a conference room for an after-work union meeting. An employee slipped and fell leaving the meeting. Can she get workers’ comp? 

Mary Rodriguez worked for Pueblo County in the Housing and Human Services Department in Colorado and was the president of the local union.

On Dec. 11, 2012, Rodriguez stayed after work for a union meeting which was held right after she clocked out. It took place in a conference room in the building where she worked. The county makes the conference rooms in its buildings available for union meetings.

The purpose of the meeting was to review the new collective bargaining agreement that was being negotiated.

After the meeting, Rodriguez walked to the parking lot where she normally parked at work and slipped on ice while getting into her car. She fell, hitting the car door frame and injuring her shoulder, wrist, elbow and shin.

An administrative law judge denied the claim, saying Rodriguez wasn’t in the course and scope of her employment because union activities are personal.

But the Industrial Claim Appeals Office Panel disagreed with the ALJ, noting Rodriguez’s union activities were “sufficiently incidental” to her work.

The county appealed to a state court. It argued the Industrial Panel should have found Rodriguez’s union meeting didn’t arise out of and in the course of employment.

Mutual benefit doctrine

Colorado’s courts hadn’t addressed whether a post-work union meeting arose out of and in the course of employment for workers’ comp purposes. But other states had addressed the issue.

New Hampshire, for example, uses the mutual benefit doctrine in these cases. In other words, a case may qualify for workers’ comp if there was a mutual employer-employee benefit in the activities of an injured union officer.

A Rhode Island case was similar to Rodriguez’s. A union officer attended a union meeting in a conference room that the employer supplied after clocking out. The meeting was called to discuss grievances to be submitted to the employer. Because the meeting “served to facilitate ongoing negotiations with the employer,” the union meeting was found to be of mutual benefit.

The appeals court concluded that union activity cases in Colorado should be looked at under the mutual benefit doctrine on a case-by-case basis.

In Rodriguez’s case, the meeting benefited ongoing negotiations between the union and the employer. So the court found the union activity in this case was of mutual benefit, and Rodriguez’s injuries were compensable.

(Pueblo County v. Mary Rodriguez, Colorado Court of Appeals, No. 16CA1388, 5/18/17)

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