Safety and OSHA News

Tripped over dog at home, now worker wants comp

PugPuppy

Is this the adult version of “my dog ate my homework”?

Mary Sandberg worked as a custom decorator for JC Penney. She sold window treatments, upholstery, bedding and pillows.

She worked at Penney’s studio one day a week. On other days she visited clients or worked at home where she often prepared bids and other paperwork.

She was required to keep fabric samples with her to show clients. Penney’s didn’t provide a place for her to store the fabric books, so she kept them in her garage.

One day Sandberg was walking out her back door to the garage to get the fabric books. When her foot came down, she “felt something move.” Her dog was underfoot, so she shifted to her other foot, lost her balance and fell. She broke a bone in her right arm.

To be compensable in Oregon, an injury must “arise out of” and occur “in the course of” a worker’s employment.

Sandberg sought workers’ compensation benefits for her injury, which Penney denied. An administrative law judge and the Workers’ Compensation Board agreed that benefits should be denied.

The board said Sandberg “encountered the same risk any time that she stepped outside the door of her home” because “the risk arose from [her] home environment, which was outside of the employer’s control.”

Sandberg took her case to a state appeals court.

Are outside risks covered?

In arguments to the appeals court, Sandberg said her injury rose out of employment because her employer required her to work out of her home. So, the hazards of her home environment encountered while she was performing work duties were also hazards of her employment.

Her employer said walking to the garage was exempt under the “going and coming rule,” which states that injuries suffered while commuting to and from work are usually not compensable.

The court said, when Sandberg regularly worked at her home, her home was her “employer’s premises.”

So, because her home environment was, at times, her work environment, the risks of the home environment could be the risks of her work environment.

“If, as a condition of employment, an employer exposes workers to risks outside of the employer’s control, injuries resulting from the risks can be compensable.”

The court said Sandberg was walking to her garage for the sole purpose of performing a work task. Therefore, it concluded that her injury resulted from a risk of her work environment and as such, it arose out of her employment.

Note: Since it found a reason to deny Sandberg’s claim, The Workers’ Compensation Board didn’t determine whether the injury occurred in the course of her employment. So the appeals court has remanded the case back to the board to decide that.

What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below. Click here for the court’s decision.

(Sandberg v. JC Penney Co., Court of Appeals of OR, No. 0702441, A140276, 6/1/2011)

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Comments

  1. Jeff Stephens says:

    IF Mary feels that the hazards of her home should be the hazards of her employement, what should be looked at is the employers rules regarding pets at work. The amount of money that is being wasted on this case is unbelievable, it’s a broken arm. Get over it. Remove the tripping hazard from the work place to reduce the possibility of injury. I 100% agree with the denial of the claim.

  2. Let me first state that I love pets as I have throughout my life. Having said that, is this type of decision making process going to give an employer domain over an employee’s home? This “slippery slope” could mean home inspections and life-style changes demanded of the employee by his employer.

    Could you imagine the employer saying …”but, the dog’s got to go!” might lead to? Where has common sense gone? This employee could have tripped over this dog at any time or stepped on something left on a stair, or possibly been impaired with a medication … and blame a dog?

    BTW, does WC cover the vet bills, too?

  3. Safety Steve says:

    I believe she should recieve compensation. Her boss knew she was keeping samples in her garage. JC Penny did not do a hazard analysis on the possibilities of an incident.

  4. The accident is work related it should be covered. What is the difference if she worked at a store and had to go to a storeroom and pickup materials and stepped on something and fell. This one should have been taken care of the 1st time around, the board should have been questioned by their superiors as to how this was messed up to start with.
    Work related is work related, if a employer wants people to work from home than they need to acceptable to these type of incidents. If they want better control of the situations related to employment then they need to provide a place of employment, you can’t have both ways.

  5. After reading the court’s decision, I can see why they would reverse their 1st decision. Doesn’t necessarily mean I agree. Maybe she, & fellow employees who work at home, need to be better trained in safety awareness. Can an employer legally come in to an employee’s home & make a safety acessment? I have no idea. But I do know that if I’d have tripped over my own dog, I wouldn’t have filed it on WC…my home, my carelessness, my responsibility!!

  6. So is JCP bringing a TPS against the owner of the dog?

  7. Dave B. says:

    This is a ridculous ruling. As a safety mgr. I am required to make sure that the workplace is safe for all employees to work in by OSHA regs and other safety bodies and enforce those regulations. So by this ruling does this now mean that if an employee works at home are we now required to go to that place of residence and make sure it is up to OSHA regs?

    Think about that for a minute, this court is saying that she faced a hazard at home in the line of her job, which I’m not sure of any OSHA reg that says the dog must be kept undercontrol at all times. So am I, as the safety officer, suppose to go to the home and make sure it meets all of OSHA regs. ? Should I make daily inspections of the home to make sure these regs are followed? Should I go there and provide on site training? Who will ensure that these rules are followed? Don’t even get me started on ergonomics at home, most people rarely follow that training outside the work place and blame the employer for all of their wrist and back injuries.

    I guess any work from home should be banned, period! The employer cannot control that work place. In my books this case is basically abusing the Comp. system and we wonder why most states are going broke and businesses fleeing states like Oregon and NY to more business friendly states.

  8. I don’t think this woman should receive benefits. The employer does not control her home environment but she does. If she was working at the office she would not have a dog to trip over. She knows that she has a dog around and should be more careful to notice her surroundings at all times. She should just use her own medical insurance.

  9. If that is the case, then the employer has the responsibility to make sure that the workplace is at all times free of recognized hazards. Additionally, the employer can indicate that the workplace must be drugs and alcohol free. What if there are workplace audits conducted?

    So, based on this decision, Penney’s can:

    1. make the employee get rid of her dog, it obviously is a hazard
    2. remove all alcohol from the premises
    3. ensure that her sidewalk and driveway are free from all debris; snow, sleet, ice
    4. open her residence to random unnanounced safety audits

    Failure to comply with the safety program could result in immediate termination.

  10. One of the risks of allowing employees to work from home when you have ultra employee leaning courts. I would immediately discontinue her home domocile and make her get out of bed, get dressed and go to work like a real job. Any thing else and your hanging way out there when you have employee attitudes like this. I’m considering discontinuing all home domiciled employees that were allowed this priviledge for personal reasons.

  11. ridiculous. when is this nonsense going to stop. is everyone looking for a free ride?

  12. Is the dog employer owned? This is so much BS and what is wrong with the system. Legitimate injuries from on the job accidents are all being scrutinized more closely, and some denied, because of cases like this.

  13. Brian Rowles says:

    I think because a dog is not a part of a normal work environment this case should be denied.

  14. I think, because a dog is not part of a normal work environment this case should be denied.

  15. I think too many people are working the system. This is so ridiculous. She has the benefit of working from home. But that will punish others for her own stupidity for not looking where she is going. Or if she is that clumsy she doesn’t need a dog.

  16. Lori Dalton says:

    Give me a break (no pun intended). People just refuse to take responsibility for their own actions or in this case their own clumsy-ness….the only people benfitting here is the lawyers. She could have tripped over her dog for any number of reasons…..as most employers do not allow animals at work….. that obstacle was of her own doing.

  17. If the circumstances described here create a compensable situation, I would not dare allow an employee to work from home. The hazard (dog underfoot) would not be allowed in a workplace. If she had taken more care to minimize hazards in the home as many employers do at the workplace, she may have avoided the injury.

    Also, I’m not sure that Penney “required her to work out of her home.” That is usually a convenience to the employee. I can see the writing on the wall: fewer employees able to telecommute because of cases like this. Or maybe employers should be allowed to conduct safety audits in employees’ homes to dictate the work environment at home!

  18. Disagree with the Courts. According to the IRS, only the area designated and used as the “office area” is considered her work area. The rest of the house is her home. That Penney’s did not provide storage for the samples is irrelevant, she needed access to them in her office. If Penney’s had provided outside storage, she would then have tripped and fell in the course of traveling to her car, which is not compensible. What’s the difference? The employer is required to provide a safe workplace. It would seem this ruling opens up the rest of the employee’s house to scrutiny by the employer to review and mandate what must be done to make it safe for that employee to work there. You can’t have it both ways.

  19. I agree with Safety Steve and Jack. If Penney’s wants to control the work environment they must provide a place for her to keep her samples and provide an office for her to work in. As long as they don’t they are accepting that anything that happens at home that the employee says was work related is going to have to be covered. Unless there is a legitimate reason to believe this injury was not work related they don’t have a leg to stand on. No pun intended.

  20. Since the court ruled that the Home is the employee’s workplace then does that make the employee responsible for reporting the home to the IRS for tax purposes under commercial business?

    If the employee is claiming WC for injuries sustained from on the job activities and the courts rule the home is the employee’s workplace then the employer should have the right to inspect the employee’s home for proper work conditions as well as take corrective action against the employee for not maintaining a clean and hazard free work environment.

    Could the employer now establish guidelines for keeping the dog leashed during work hours? or have the dog removed from the premisses all together due to the workplace hazard it created?

  21. In accordance with osha this is not a recordable case:

    OSHA law states:

    How do I decide if a case is work-related when the employee is working at home? Injuries and illnesses occurs while the employee is performing work for pay or compensation in the home, and the injury or illness is directly related to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting. For example, If an employee is injured because he or she trips on the family dog while rushing to answer a work phone call, the case is not considered work-related. If an employee working at home is electrocuted because of faulty home wiring, the injury is not considered work-related.

  22. As much as it pains me to say it, I agree that it is compensable.

    JCPenny has a choice. It can give everyone offices and control the variables that take place in that environment, or it can let worker work from their homes. In this case for cost and efficiency reasons they chose to accept the risk of having people work from home. Would this be such a cause for uproar and debate if she had tripped on a clients dog? No.

    If Penneys had made a decision to provide space for her samples she would not have been exposed to the risk. Since they chose to let her use her home they willingly accepted that risk.

    On the other hand I do agree about policies that prohibit pets in the work area, and suing the dog for causing harm, but I am just petty like that.

  23. Good point Mike. Where do we draw the line when allowing employees to work from home. The employer and or insurance company certainly have every right to investigate the home environment for unsafe conditions, which doesn’t mean an employer can tell them to restrain their pets. Ther are many small businesses where pets freely roam. Cornell University is required by a large benefactor to allow dogs to roam campus buildings. They walk in and out in the middle of studies at the library, classrooms, etc. you would think there would be a liability there. They must have insurance that covers that risk.

  24. Greg Rogers says:

    Walter hit the nail on the head. According to OSHA, it’s not a work related case! Plain and simple….end of discussion!

  25. I feel that if she was required to work at home and was actually doing a work activity when she was injured, it should be covered. To be frank, though, I’d think Penny’s or their carrier should have just paid the claim. There are some hills worth dying on and this was not one of them. OK, if she claimed she had a chronic disease from working from home and Penny’s would have to pay and pay and pay, I’d say fight it. In this case, though you’re talking about a couple thousand bucks at most. Sometimes I think in wanting to prove a point, good sense gets thrown out the window.

  26. Ted Bean says:

    The court’s logic is reasonable. However, it will mean that employers now have responsibility for inspecting and regulating the residences of employees who work from home. A likely outcome is that businesses will stop offering the work-from-home option to employees. Everyone loses. JC Penny would have done itself and the country a huge favor if they had just paid the claim. Don’t go to court if you can’t afford to lose.

  27. The employees home is their “castle” and until I have proof that the company or government owns it, I have no control of what happens there. The employee was given the option to work from home, clearly a nice benifit, but not required to work from home. If the employee trips over any object in thier own controled environment, it is their own fault for not recognizing a hazard – clearly a preventable accident and I would submit, employee misconduct.

    The courts need to gert this one right or they will have to envoke “Eminent Domain” to our company so that I can control their property and inspect it for known hazards. Doggie day care businesses should be happy as I would make the employee remove all animals during work hours.

  28. Give me a break – total and complete assinine consideration by the appeals court – they need to be thrown off the bench for even considering reversal of the lower court. The lady who brought the case should have to pay ALL costs associate with the case AND SERVE TIME. There is NO argument this is an outright attempt to cheat the WC system.

  29. Unfortunately, employees who abuse the system like this ruin it for everyone. Good employers have implemented programs to allow employees to work from home, telecommute, flex time, etc. Thanks to ridiculous cases like this, many employers will think twice about programs like this and just make their employees come to work.

  30. alecfinn says:

    I am surprised at myself……for my main reoccurring thought is

    “Prove you were working when you were hurt”

    I have worked at home when Ill I had a start and stop time and I was expected to accomplish the tasks I was given. I am having really hard time with all this. The dog happened to be asleep in the garage in the path of a person who just happened to need those books that are stored in the garage….and at the same time the dog was asleep. The dog did not wake up when the person entered the garage? Dogs are usually light sleepers and wake easily garages are not quiet places….I ……Don’t feel………

    I have had dogs most of my life and they tend to like to be around us usually following us playing with us keeping us company etc. When I had a house with a garage I usually turned on the light when I entered it and my dog was in the house or tied to a run outside with his/her house and water.

    Yeah…………. Penny should just have paid as they created the situation. But I would be very suspicious of a person reporting an injury in this manner. No witness but the pooch?

    If working at home is an option for some it should be considered a benefit many of us would like but I thought you needed a dedicated office area………

    This thing in all likelihood is above board but I would have to have some sort of assurance that her home/office/work area was kept in a safe condition as an office should be. If there were afire would that be the employer’s responsibility to repair damage?

  31. Walter is right to quote OSHA to determine the acceptability of the claim. I also agree with Mike about the IRS definition of home work space. If this person is allowed to collect compensation it opens wide an area of inspections that neither OSHA, companies or individuals would really want to happen. Was she really “working” or is this a ploy to get compensation for a home accident? I get hurt at home it’s my responsibility not the companies.

  32. So employers should outlaw all pets, children’s toys, etc.?

  33. Rediculous. Pandora’s box. I get the sense that we are losing the battle with Workers Comp. Little by little, things that seem relatively simple to conclude are being given consideration and approval by seemingly knowledgeable people. Upon several decisions being made like the example we are discussing, it becomes mainstream thought, therefore a right or entitlement.

    I personnally look at it like this; In the early 1920’s, almost 100 years ago, if an employee was injured in a factory – “too bad and good luck” that attitude was just as rediculous – the employer had the right to use people until they broke, without consideration. REDICULOUS.

    We have turned full circle – many employers have figured out that safety is central to running a a profitable business, therefore do the utmost to provide a safe workplace, Employees have much improved conditions, training, etc. as a result. The original intent of WC was strictly bound to the workplace, which is where is should reside. Now, due to STUPID decisions made by boards dictate that EVERYTHING is tied to the work environment, i.e., in your car, at a hotel, in your own home, at the coliseum, at a picnic, in the weight room, etc. Personally, I disagree and will continue to disagree with that philosophy. Prior responses to this forum by me have hinged on the phrase Employers ABILITY TO CONTROL or MANAGE the situation. I believe that is the key factor not being considered by many WC Boards.

    In this case, other than preventing the employee from working from home – what control does the employer have? Once this worker was in the home environment, the company had NO CONTROL whatsoever as to the conditions that existed in her home or her behavior. All of the other situations that are mentioned – minimal control, if any at all. That is not to say there are not cases outside of the normal workplace that do have merit and should be considered, THIS IS DEFINATELY NOT ONE OF THEM

  34. OSHA should investigate the dog for a previous history of unsafe acts. The dog should pay her workers comp.

  35. Miss Safety Girl says:

    Working from home? The same safety regulations in the office/work place should be implemented at home. Call your homeowners or medical insurance. When I work from home, (not often) the benefits are that I can stay in my jammies and take care of my pets, but they would not be allowed in my office, therefore the claim would no merit. It is a chance I take working from home.

  36. Just have employees that work from their homes sign a Letter of Understanding that indicates that the Company is not responsible for accidents that occur in the home, or on the employees property, that result from poor housekeeping, pets, weather, maintenance, etc. If they don’t like it, they go to an office.

  37. i think the she should have been a little bit more responsible in her home/work enviroment. if you eliminate the hazards first hand then there is less of a potential. but being that she was iresponsible than it falls on her. also, as one of the above messages stated, it could have happened anywhere. so whose to say it happened while she was working?

  38. Why hasn’t OSHA stepped in and fined the employer (and all employers for that matter) who have employees working at home with dogs and cats? That’ll pay off the debt.

  39. Wouldn’t it be considered a benefit for the employee to work from home to maintain work/life balance? As well as a benefit for the company to allow this type of flex work in an effort to reduce overhead costs and potential liabilities? How about we scratch everything and send the woman to the office on a daily basis, not allowing the work from home benefit.

  40. Dave in Calif says:

    The pet should be banned to a fenced dog run and cameras mounted in the house, back yard and garge, anywhere where she would have performing her job duties. To be fair the cameras would only come on at designated times when she is performing her job duties times to be worked out with her employer. George would have loved this.

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