MD Court Clarifies 'Home Office' Definition for WC

03 Jul, 2019 Nancy Grover

                               

Annapolis, MD (WorkersCompensation.com) - In a decision that some are calling a “landmark ruling for telecommuters,” Maryland’s second highest court opened the possibility of home-based workers being eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

In Schwan Food Co., Et Al, v. Ryan Frederick the Court of Special Appeals vacated a decision that favored the injured worker and remanded the case for a new trial. However, in rendering its decision, the justices outlined the parameters for what constitutes a home-based office for workers’ compensation purposes.

“We hold that injuries sustained by the employee en route from the employee’s home work site to another work-related site may arise out of and in the course of employment,” the court wrote “As detailed in our discussion, in order to determine whether a home qualifies as a work site, we adopt a three-part test rooted in eminent principles of workers’ compensation law.”

The justices looked to cases in other jurisdictions, including Wisconsin and New Jersey, in coming up with the determining factors in whether an employee’s home qualifies as a work site:

  1. The quantity and regularity of work performed at home
  2. The presence of work equipment at home
  3. The special circumstances of the employment rendering it necessary, and not merely personally convenient, to work at home. “…the fact-finder should also consider whether the employer acquiesced to the employee’s use of his or her home as a work site, or reasonably should have known the employee was regularly using the home as a work site,” the justices wrote.

The case

Ryan Frederick was working for the Minnesota-based Schwan Food Company when he slipped on an icy sidewalk as he was leaving his house in Maryland in 2016, injuring his right leg. He later said he was planning to drop his soon off at day care on his way to business appointments.

Frederick’s claim was initially denied by the Workers’ Compensation Commission which said he was on a personal errand and, therefore, did not sustain an injury arising out of and in the course of employment. He requested a judicial review and jury trial with the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.

That court concluded that Frederick had been working from his ‘home office’ before he left his house to travel to his business appointment and, therefore, the injury did arise out of and in the course of his employment. The company appealed.

The appellate court sent the case back.

“In this case, we conclude that material facts remain in dispute as to whether Mr. Frederick’s home qualified as a home worksite and whether he had commenced his work day and was fulfilling his work duties, or something incident thereto, at the time of his injury,” the ruling states. “Because it was for the jury to resolve these predicate factual issues, the circuit court erred in ruling, as a matter of law, that Mr. Frederick’s injury arose out of and in the course of employment. Accordingly, we remand for a new trial.”

Potential Significance

The ruling could have significant ramifications for telecommuters beyond injuries sustained during work-related transportation, wrote Steve Lash, in an article published in The Daily Record. Quoting workers’ compensation attorney James A. Lanier, of Warnken LLC in Baltimore, Lash wrote that it could also be applicable to injuries incurred “inside a worker’s house if the employer and employee agree that work would be conducted from the home.”

Lash quoted Schwan’s attorney Michael S. Fox as saying his client appreciates that the court has provided some guidance in terms of whether a worker’s home can constitute a worksite and, therefore, make the employee eligible for workers’ compensation.

As to whether Frederick will let the case return for trial or ask the appellate court to review its decision and reinstate the circuit court’s awarding of benefits, attorney Blaine M. Kolker said that has not been decided, according to Lash. But he said the decision did provide some “certainty in a rule.”


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    About The Author

    • Nancy Grover

      Nancy Grover is a freelance writer having recently retired as the Director, Media Services for WorkersCompensation.com. She comes to our company with more than 35 years as a broadcast journalist and communications consultant. Grover’s specialties include insurance, workers’ compensation, financial services, substance abuse, healthcare and disability. For 12 years she served as the Program Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. A journalism/speech graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Grover also holds an MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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