Why after-work activities can still lead to a compensable injury

Maintenance worker injures three fingers after reaching for job tool

Why after-work activities can still lead to a compensable injury

An employee’s action in picking up work-related tools or equipment, even beyond the official workday, can be considered a compensable injury, a panel of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board of California said in a recent case.

In the case of Timson vs. Oxford Suites; WCF National Insurance Company, Oxford Suites hired a maintenance worker in April 2020. His job duties included janitorial work, trades work, and repairing appliances. He also worked on drywall, plumbing, and electricity.

The employer had a utility cart but no tool cart at the time. The employee’s supervisor asked him to bring his own tools.

In August 2021, the employee was doing preventative maintenance such as caulking at his job location. After the end of his shift, he got something to eat. He stayed at the premises to assemble the tool cart so that he could stop bringing his own tools to work. He could not finish this task on the clock because his work was “overwhelming,” he alleged.

As the employee reached to grab a caulking tool, he lost his footing and placed his hand on a soap dish, which shattered. He injured three of his fingers.

Read more: What employers need to know about catastrophic injury

The employee phoned his general manager to notify him about the injury. The general manager replied that he was not covered. The employer paid no compensation and provided no medical treatment.

The employee filed a workers’ compensation claim for industrial injury arising out of and in the course of his employment (AOE/COE) under section 3600(a) of the California’s Labor Code. He alleged injury to his left ring finger, left middle finger, left pinkie finger, and left hand.

A workers’ compensation administrative law judge ruled in the employer’s favor and found that the employee failed to prove he suffered injury AOE/COE. This decision prompted the employee to ask for a reconsideration.

Injury is industrial

The panel of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board of California issued a decision granting the employee’s petition for reconsideration and returning the case to the judge for further proceedings.

Section 3600(a) makes employers liable for employees’ injuries AOE/COE. This provision may consider the employee to be performing services incidental to employment even if they are doing something purely personal at the time of the injury, the panel noted.

In this case, the employee was on the employer’s premises when he was injured. It was reasonable to expect him to pick up his tools before he left the job, the panel said. His decision to pick up his tools was not a substantial or material deviation from his duties, the panel added.

The panel concluded that the employee’s injury was AOE/COE and was compensable even if the employer had a rule against employees using their own tools or had instructed the employee not to use his own tools and even if the employee violated that rule or went against such instructions.

According to the panel, if it decided that a violation of an employer’s instructions or rules would remove the employee’s injury from within the course of his employment, this decision could end up undermining the no-fault foundation of workers’ compensation law.

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