Injured employee invokes personal comfort doctrine
Katherine Mandes, who was employed by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company as a nurse case manager, used her paid 15-minute break to take a walk around the building with coworkers. As she returned to the building she tripped and fell on an uneven sidewalk adjacent to the company parking lot and sustained multiple injuries.
Mandes filed a claim for workers compensation benefits, and her employer denied the claim. The Oregon Workers’ Compensation Board upheld the denial, reasoning that the injuries did not occur in the course and scope of her employment. The board applied the “going and coming” rule, which generally provides that injuries sustained while an employee is traveling to or from work do not occur in the course of employment and are not compensable. Exceptions to the rule include injuries that occur in an employer-controlled parking lot. The board concluded that this exception did not apply because the employer did not have control of the premises where Mandes fell, so her injuries did not occur in the course of her employment. Mandes appealed.
Two dissenting board members had agreed with Mandes’ argument that her injuries arose out of and in the context of employment under the “personal comfort” doctrine. Under this doctrine a worker remains in the course and scope of employment during personal comfort activities that are sanctioned by the employer and are incidental to but not directly involved in the performance of the appointed task.
On appeal, the court noted that off-premises activities that have been found to be within the course of scope of employment under the personal comfort doctrine have included coffee, lunch, and restroom breaks. The court cited a source that said: “The compensability of on-premises injuries sustained while engaged in activities for the personal comfort of employment can best be determined by a test which asks: ‘Was the conduct expressly or impliedly allowed by the employer?’”
The court held that because the personal comfort doctrine is part of the “course and scope” inquiry, it precedes any discussion of the coming and going rule, which applies when the worker has left the course and scope of employment. The court reversed and remanded the board’s order for reconsideration.
Mandes vs. Liberty Mutual Holdings-Liberty Mutual Insurance Company-October 20, 2016-2016 WL 10649256.