A headline today caught the attention of many who feel worker’s compensation may be too broadly defined. “Officer Hit by Car While Walking to Get Coffee Due Worker’s Comp.” An Oregon court ruled that a police lieutenant who was struck by a car while she was going to get a cup of coffee across the street from her office was entitled to worker’s compensation. The Police Department claimed she was injured during a “solely personal mission” and denied benefits, but the Oregon Worker’s Compensation Board awarded benefits and the Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the Board’s ruling. The Court said the officer was still at work during her coffee run since she was expected to perform community policing duties while not in office.
In Wisconsin the course of employment is similarly broadly defined. A worker does not have to be at his or her specific work station (or in many cases not even on the employer’s premises) to be covered under worker’s compensation.
Such widely varied activities as skiing, shopping, drinking, and swimming have been found compensable under the traveling employee statute.
While on premises, workers are covered during breaks, including bathroom breaks, smoke breaks, fresh air breaks, and meal breaks. Employees are also covered if injured while on an errand for the employer or if they have to stop somewhere for the employer after work. Employees are covered in the company designated parking lot and between the parking lot and the workplace. Generally any work-related activity that is performed by an employee while engaged in furtherance of the employer’s business including activities at locations away from the employer’s premises are covered. Recently the Court approved coverage for a police officer injured while doing push ups at home, since a push up requirement was routinely part of a fitness for duty exam. The “Personal Comfort Doctrine” allows the employee to attend to personal needs without deviating from the course of employment. The Courts have applied the Personal Comfort Doctrine in a variety of widely diverse facts situations:
- Getting a drink.
- Eating lunch.
- Warming oneself.
- Sleeping in a provided place.
- Visiting the toilet.
- Going for pay.
- Riding in a car provided by the employer.
- Going from place to place on a city street.
- Making a tool box for your own tools.
- Extinguishing a fire.
- Eating ice cream.
- Contracting smallpox.
- Sleeping next to an employee’s truck.
- Urinating while standing on the running board of a moving truck.
Traveling employees receive even broader worker’s compensation coverage in Wisconsin under a three-step analysis:
- Traveling employees are deemed to be in the course of employment at all times while on a trip (portal to portal).
- Except when engaged in deviation for a private or personal purpose.
- But acts reasonably necessary for or incidental to living are not deviations.
Injuries incurred by traveling employees engaged in reasonable recreation are covered. Such widely varied activities as skiing, shopping, drinking, and swimming have been found compensable under the traveling employee statute.