by Bradley G. Garber, Esq.
As computers become more and more pervasive in the workplace, it becomes easier to work out of an employer-controlled office space. The traditional circumstances that identify an injury as work-related are blurred.
In Oregon, ORS 656.005(7) defines a "compensable injury" as one that "aris[es] out of and in the course of employment." The "arises out of" component of the test requires a causal link between the worker's injury and the employment. The "in the course of" component concerns the time, place and circumstances of the injury.
Both components of the work-connection test must be satisfied to some degree; neither is dispositive. "A worker's injury is deemed to 'arise out of' employment if the risk of the injury results from the nature of his or her work or when it originates from some risk to which the work environment exposes the worker." Griffin v. SAIF, 210 or App 469 (2007).
If the work environment is in the home, determining whether the risk to which the worker is exposed is something related to the nature of his or her employment becomes complex.
Risks in Employee's "Work Environment"
In Sandberg v. J.C. Penney Co. Inc., WCB No. 0702441; CA A140276 (June 1, 2011), the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a decision by the Workers' Compensation Board that upheld a compensability denial of an injury sustained by a worker who tripped over her dog while walking to her garage to get material for work she was doing at home.
The worker was a custom decorator who sold window treatments, upholstery, bedding and pillows for her employer. The employer had a studio where the claimant worked one day per week. Otherwise, she was on the road or working out of her home. She kept an inventory of her employer's product in her garage. On the date of injury, she was walking from her home to her garage to retrieve some fabric when she tripped over her dog and sustained a right wrist fracture in the ensuing fall. The employer denied her claim, alleging that the injury did not arise out of and in the course of employment.
The court stated its task as follows: "...[O]ur focus is on whether claimant established a causal connection between her injury and her employment, that is, whether claimant's injury resulted from a risk connected to either the nature of her work or her work environment."
The court decided that claimant's home was her workplace and that, while she regularly worked at home, she did so as a condition of her employment.
Therefore, any risks associated with her place of work were risks to be contemplated as arising out of her employment. Apparently, this included tripping over her dog. The court found that claimant's injury arose out of her employment. Because the Board never addressed the "in the course of" prong of the test, however, the court remanded the matter to the Board for further consideration.
About the Author:
Bradley G. Garber practices workers' compensation defense law at Wallace, Klor & Mann, P.C. in OR, WA, and CA. Mr. Garber is the co-author of the "Accidental Injury" chapter of the Oregon Workers' Compensation Handbook, and he is a contributing editor to the Administrative Law Newsletter.
He is a member of the Washington State Bar Association, the Oregon State Bar Association's Workers' Compensation Section and Administrative Law Section, and the Independent Medical Examination Association.
Mr. Garber will be speaking at the Workers' Compensation Law & Practice seminar in Vancouver, WA.