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