Are workers performing “employment services” when they’re entering or leaving their workplace for the day? The answer to that question determined whether this employee received workers’ comp benefits.
Rodney Brown worked as a claims adjuster for Claims Management Resources (CMR) in Oklahoma. One day he finished his work, clocked out and was leaving the office for the day when he injured his knee while using a stairwell from the second floor where he worked to the first floor to exit the building. Brown had no specific explanation for why he fell. He filed for workers’ comp benefits. CMR denied his claim.
An administrative law judge found Brown “was not engaging in activity carrying out [CMR’s] purpose and in furtherance of the affairs or business of [CMR] when the accident occurred. He was not performing any employment services as an insurance coordinator.”
The Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Court of Civil Appeals upheld the decision. Brown appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Are stairs adjacent to place of business?
The state’s highest court looked at two issues in this case. Oklahoma’s workers’ comp law says activities conducted on the premises of the employer that cause injuries are included in coverage. However, this doesn’t include “any injury occurring in a parking lot or other common area adjacent to an employer’s place of business before the employee clocks in or otherwise begins work for the employer or after the employee clocks out or otherwise stops work for the employer.”
CMR argued Brown’s injury wasn’t within the course and scope of employment because it occurred in a common area adjacent to an employer’s place of business.
But the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the stairwell wasn’t adjacent to the place of business, it was in it. The court said that section of the workers’ comp law was to exclude businesses from liability for injuries suffered in parking lots, public streets, etc., not owned by the employer.
Next, the court considered whether Brown was performing “employment services” when he fell and injured his knee. CMR argued Brown wasn’t doing work when he was walking down the stairs to leave for the day.
But the court looked at this differently:
“At issue in this cause is whether the definition of ’employment services’ encompasses something more than the literal performance of specific assigned tasks, and includes other necessities of employment specified by the employer. We think it does … By clocking out and exiting his second floor work station, Brown was complying with his employer’s instructions and therefore was still performing employment services at the time of his injury. He was performing a duty that he was required to perform.”
The Oklahoma Supreme Court shot down both of CMR’s arguments and overturned the previous decisions. It sent Brown’s case back to the comp commission to decide his workers’ comp benefits.
A note: In the listed facts of the case in the court’s decision, it says:
“CMR had instituted a wellness program encouraging employees to use the stairs. However, use of the stairs was not a requirement. Brown had access to an elevator that he could have used instead of the stairwell, but testified he used the stairwell because of the wellness program.”
It’s an interesting fact to include in the court’s opinion. Did the company’s wellness program contribute to the decision against it? Nowhere in its decision does the court say that, despite including the fact in its opinion.
Even if this factor had entered into the decision, what would employers do as a result? Cancel their wellness programs because it increases the likelihood they’ll lose a workers’ comp case? Tell workers to use the elevator instead of the stairs because they might be injured?
It’s just a bit of irony. In effect, Brown said the company’s wellness program caused him to suffer an injury.
(Brown v. Claims Management Resources Inc., Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma, No. 113609, 2/22/17)