FOR THE RECOVERY OF WORKERS COMPENSATION BENEFITS, WISCONSIN RECOGNIZES INJURIES OCCURRING IN THE “COURSE OF EMPLOYMENT”
For an injury to be covered for workers compensation benefits in Wisconsin, it must have occurred in the “course of your employment.” This means that the time, place, and circumstances under which the accident takes place must be considered. It is liberally construed to favor all service that can in any sense be said to reasonably come within it. This is good since so many of us have unconventional work settings and hours working from our homes, satellite offices, and cars. Now more than ever, what the “course of employment” includes can be confusing.
WHAT DOES “COURSE OF EMPLOYMENT” MEAN?
According to Wisconsin Statute sec, the course of employment is determined by whether or not the injury occurred while the employee was performing a service growing out of and incidental to her employment. 102.03(1)(c ). The most recognizable work injuries occur at or on the worksite, under the employer’s business roof, like in factories or office settings. But what about when an employee is hurt on the job, but it occurs away from the traditional worksite? The course of employment is read broadly to include many job situations and sites, such as the employee who slips and falls and injures his knee in the employer’s designated parking lot, even if the injury occurred before or after the shift. Being in the designated parking lot is enough to be considered in the course of employment.
DOES MY INJURY HAVE TO OCCUR WHILE I AM WORKING?
The Wisconsin injured worker does not have to be in work mode to recover workers compensation benefits. Consider the employee of the worksite to run an errand directed by the employer. If the employee has a motor vehicle accident with injury while picking up lunch for the company lunch meeting, their injuries will be deemed during employment. The act of picking up the lunch furthered the interest of the employer, who directed a meeting over the lunch hour.
Other company get-togethers can also fall under the course of employment even if they appear recreational or party-like. If the get-together is mandated, authorized, or directed by the employer, then injury occurring during it can be considered during employment.
IF I GET HURT AT HOME WHILE WORKING, CAN I GET WORKERS COMPENSATION BENEFITS?
During the Covid pandemic, we saw employees working from their homes more often. An injury occurring at home, such as a fall resulting in an injury when taking the trash out to the curb for pickup, can be considered during employment. This may seem surprising but think of it this way, the trash that was collected was, in part, because the injured employee works full hours from home, and has work equipment in their homes, such as a computer, files, desk, printer, and shredder. The trash accumulating in the house is like trash in a work or office setting. Ultimately, it will be a covered injury for Wisconsin workers compensation benefits if working from home was necessary for the employer rather than a complete convenience for the employee.
IF I GET HURT WHILE TRAVELING FOR WORK, CAN I GET WORKERS COMPENSATION BENEFITS?
Injury to traveling employees, like those in sales, who suffer an injury during their travels, will be covered by Wisconsin worker’s compensation benefits, even if the injury occurs during off-hours. Consider the traveling employee who meets with a client or co-workers for drinks after the workday and suffers a concussion due to a fall in the bar/restaurant. This period of deviation will still be considered in the course of employment as long as the deviation is not purely private or personal to them. It is generally accepted in Wisconsin that casual encounters with a co-worker or client while on a business trip are still in the course of employment.
IF I GET HURT WHILE TAKING A BREAK AT WORK, CAN I GET WORKERS COMPENSATION BENEFITS?
Wisconsin recognizes that during a workday, employees will need moments or brief pauses from their duties to handle the various necessities of life and personal needs, such as using the restroom. This is called the personal comfort doctrine. Technically, the employee is not performing services for the employer. However, these breaks in the workday are justified because the employer receives an indirect benefit where their employees are personally comfortable. Therefore, such deviations still fall into the course of employment category. So, lunch and coffee breaks, smoking, and leaving the workstation for a drink of water or some fresh air while on the employer’s premises are not a deviation from consideration of being in the course of employment.
IF I GET HURT WHILE RELAXING OR PLAYING AROUND AT WORK, CAN I STILL GET WORKERS COMPENSATION BENEFITS?
What about those situations where employers allow or even encourage frivolity in the work setting, such as ping-pong, darts, tossing the football, or a round of basketball during work hours? Will injury occurring during such horseplay be covered for workers compensation benefits in Wisconsin? The answer is a cautionary Yes, but the level of such horseplay needs to be considered. The true answer will be situational with every case. A review of the extent to which the practice or nature of the horseplay has or had become an accepted, or even expected, part of the employment must be analyzed. So, if a lunchtime altercation breaks out during a game of darts and one co-worker intentionally throws a dart directly at another co-worker, causing injury. It is unlikely that workers’ compensation benefits will cover the such injury. But if it is well-known and accepted that dock workers regularly throw around the football during slow periods of shipping and receiving, and a traumatic torn rotator cuff injury results, then this will likely be considered in the course of employment for workers compensation coverage.
SO, IS EVERY INJURY OCCURRING AT WORK COVERED BY WORKERS COMPENSATION?
Not every injury during work hours or in the workplace is compensable for workers’ compensation benefits in Wisconsin. For instance, injury resulting from an idiopathic fall will not be covered for benefits. Idiopathic is an injury that arises spontaneously for which the cause is unknown. So, a Wisconsin injured worker who describes their fall at work as occurring without reason or explanation will be considered idiopathic and personal to them. It occurs most often when the employee is walking and falls for no known reason. It will be considered that the fall occurred due to their condition and not related to any condition, danger, or circumstance arising from the work or workplace.
Remember that every injury has its specific set of facts and nuances. Feel comfortable and welcome to contact Attorney Lisa Pierobon Mays at Mays Law Office (608)257-0440/www.mayslaw.net to describe your situation for a free consultation.