Coverage Issues for Employees Who Work at Home
A recent decision by the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals involved an employee who performed a portion of her work at her home and commuted to a main office to spend a portion of the week. This decision is relevant for employers who allow their employees to work, in part, from home.
In the case before the Eighth District, the claimant was found not to be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits as a result of an automobile accident. The claimant was employed as an office manager for an auto parts company. As manager, the claimant’s duties included, but were not limited to, accounts receivable, accounts payable, recordkeeping, advertising, promotions, mailing fliers and general office work. The claimant performed some of her job duties at home on a weekly basis and others at the main office.
On the date of injury, the claimant, pursuant to her job duties, completed labeling and stuffing approximately 300 promotional fliers at her home. After dropping off her child at school, she mailed the fliers at a nearby post office. She then drove to the main office. The claimant was involved in a motor vehicle accident en route to the office.
The claimant filed a claim with the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, which tentatively denied her request. A Staff Hearing Officer of the Industrial Commission found that the claimant was injured during her normal commute to work and therefore was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The claimant appealed the decision, and the matter came before the Eighth District.
The court first addressed whether the claimant performed substantial employment duties at her home or whether the claimant commenced her substantial employment duties only after arriving at the main office. A general rule, known as the “coming-and-going rule,” holds that an employee who has a “fixed” place of employment is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits when injured traveling to or from her place of employment. The claimant argued that the “coming-and-going” rule did not apply because she performed substantial job duties at her home and therefore did not have one “fixed” place of employment. The court disagreed with the claimant and found that the claimant failed to establish that she performed substantial job duties at her home. As such, the claimant was not entitled to benefits stemming from the accident that occurred en route to her “fixed” place of employment, the main office.
Second, the court addressed whether or not the “totality of the circumstances” exception to the coming and going rule applied. This exception involves a multiple-factor test to determine whether or not a sufficient causal connection exists between the claimant’s employment and the injury. The court found that the facts of this claim failed the test and therefore did not support compensation.
Last but not least, the court considered the “special errand and/or special mission” exception to the coming-and-going rule. Under the law, in order for the special errand and/or special mission exception to apply, the mission must be a major factor in the journey (not incidental) and the mission must be a substantial one. The court found that the claimant’s mailing of the fliers was merely incidental to her dropping off her daughter at school. The court also found that the claimant’s mailing of fliers was not a major factor in the claimant’s journey.
This decision is an important one for employers who are allowing their employees to perform a portion of their work from home, but also requiring that they run work-related errands in their automobile or commute to a main office for a portion of the week. As evidenced by this decision, a great deal of emphasis will be placed on the nature of the work an employee actually performs at home. Specifically, courts will look at whether or not the work that is performed while at home is substantial in light of the employee’s prescribed work duties.
Do you have an employee who works, in part, from home? If so, it is important to be cognizant of the workers’ compensation risks associated with employing such a person! Please contact Nikki or any of the workers’ compensation attorneys at RBS to discuss this matter or any other workers’ compensation issue on your mind.