An employee is walking toward a time clock to punch in when he slips, falls and injures his back. He files for workers’ comp. Did a court award it?
Ronnie Nabors was working for Continental Construction Co. which was helping to build a power plant near Blytheville, Arkansas. Continental was one of several subcontractors on the project.
The general contractor at the site had a rule: All contract employees had to put on their safety gear first, then swipe an access card at a gate to access the site.
Nabors and other workers were living at a motel. They were paid a per diem on top of their wages to cover the expenses of living away from home.
Even if work was cancelled for the day due to weather, employees had to go to the Continental trailer where they normally clocked in to get their per diem.
In the early morning hours of March 2, 2009, Nabors awoke at the motel and found it had snowed a lot overnight.
He wasn’t able to find out whether work was cancelled, so he drove to the work site, put on his protective gear, swiped his access card at the gate, and walked toward the trailer where he would clock in.
He was about 50 feet from the trailer when he slipped on ice, fell and injured his lower back.
Nabors filed for workers’ comp. Continental denied the claim which led to a hearing.
An administrative law judge found Nabors had suffered a compensable injury and awarded him benefits. Continenatal appealed, but the Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission upheld the ALJ’s decision. Continental appealed again, this time to a state court.
Test: Within time and space of employment?
Continental argued that Nabors wasn’t performing employment services at the time of his injury because he was on the way to clock in.
In most states, the coming-and-going rule prohibits payment for injuries while an employee is on his way to or from work.
There is also what’s known as a “premises exception” to the coming-and-going rule. In Arkansas, the exception kicks in only when the employee is on the work premises “performing employment services” at the time of the injury.
The appeals court said in this case, it boiled down to whether the injury occurred “within the time and space boundaries of employment.”
The court found that Nabors’ case was different from one in which an employee is injured while walking to or from his vehicle in a parking lot before or after work.
Before he fell, Nabors had already complied with the general contractor’s safety and security rules for the work site by putting on his safety gear and swiping his access card to gain entrance, according to the court. Both of those actions “benefited” Continental because it allowed the subcontractor’s employees to access the work site.
Continental also argued that Nabors wasn’t engaged in employment services because his real motivation for going to the work trailer that day was to get his per diem. But the court said “an employee’s motivations in performing an action” didn’t matter.
So the appeals court affirmed the earlier rulings and allowed Nabors to receive workers’ comp benefits.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments.
(Continental Construction Co. v. Ronnie Nabors, Arkansas Court of Appeals Div. II, No. CV-14-53, 2/4/15)