If you’re like the millions of Americans whose jobs have been impacted by the coronavirus, you may have found yourself working from home for the foreseeable future. This might be a welcomed change or you may be longing to get back in the office, but it’s clear that it’s going to be a little different for the time being. What’s not going to be different is the fact that you are protected by worker’s compensation, even when you’re working from home. Below, we take a closer look at the case in Minnesota that set this precedent.
Munson v. Wilmar/Interline Brands
The case that established the precedent was heard not that long ago in 2008. During that case, the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals heard the case of Ary Munson, who was attempting to collect workers’ compensation payments after suffering an injury while working from home. Here’s a little more background information about the case.
Munson was a sales representative for the company, and the company did not offer an office space at their warehouse facility. The company also required sales reps to contact customers at least once a month, so reps often had to reach out by phone to keep in contact. To facilitate this, Munson, like many other sales reps, maintained a home office where he made some of these calls.
On March 31 2007, Munson was preparing his end of month sales report in his home office when he decided he wanted a cup of coffee. As he walked downstairs to the kitchen he slipped and fractured a vertebrae in his back, eventually needing surgery. He filed for workers’ compensation on the grounds that he was injured during the course of his employment. His claim was initially approved, but his employer’s insurance company appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals.
Munson argued that even though he was not at one of the company’s warehouses, he was performing work duties at a work-approved location. The other side argued that Munson stopped being an employee when he stopped working and went to get a cup of coffee, but Munson’s team argued that his trip to get coffee was covered under the personal comfort doctrine.
The personal comfort doctrine establishes that employees are still considered to be performing job duties when they are seeking comfort activities that can be reasonably expected by an employer. For example, employees can be reasonably expected to walk to the break room or head to the bathroom during their shift. Even if these actions aren’t directly related to the employee’s work duties, they are considered work-related actions. The appeals court cited Hill v. Terrazo Machine & Supply Co., which held that it is “well established that acts of an employee necessary to life, comfort or convenience while at work, although personal to him and not technically acts of service, are incidental to the service, and injury arising while in the performance of such acts is compensable.”
Their official positioning stated:
“Where the employer had required the employee to maintain a home office as a condition of his employment, where there was no dispute as to the facts or duration of the employee’s break, and where, at the time of his break, the employee was performing a task required of him by his employer, the compensation judge’s application of the personal comfort doctrine in awarding benefits to the employee consequent to his injury on his way to his kitchen to get a cup of coffee was neither improper legally nor unsupported by substantial evidence.”
So if you are injured while working from home, and the injury occurred while performing work duties or during an action that would be covered under the personal comfort doctrine, reach out to the experienced workers’ compensation lawyers at Hey Workers to learn more about your benefit options.