What Do You Think: Can university worker who slipped after showering in dormitory get benefits for spinal injury?

19 Mar, 2024 Chris Parker

                               

Fayetteville, AR (WorkersCompensation.com) -- Are there any circumstances when taking a shower could be considered performing a job duty?

A case involving a “generalist” who performed maintenance, repairs, and various other duties for the University of Arkansas provides some insight into that question.

The generalist worked work hours were 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and he was assigned to three of the university's dormitories. On Feb. 2, 2022, there was a snowstorm. The university was going to need personnel to shovel snow and salt sidewalks the next morning. Also, the roads were impassable, so the generalist, had he gone home, would not have been able to return the next morning to help out.

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The generalist was not on the maintenance department's emergency on-call list that week. A supervisor, however, asked for employees who wanted to volunteer to stay overnight in a dorm. The generalist took him up on the offer, partly because of the weather conditions themselves, and partly because he would get extra pay as inclement-weather compensation the next day.

At approximately 6:30 a.m. the next morning, he took a shower, slipped while stepping out of the shower, and fell on his backside, suffering a compression fracture in his lumbar spine.

The workers’ compensation commission found that the injury was not compensable. It reasoned that the generalist was not working when it occurred.

The court explained that an injury is not compensable unless the employee incurred it while performing employment services. An employee is performing employment services when he is doing something that is generally required by his employer. The test is whether the injury occurred within the time and space boundaries of the employment when the employee was carrying out the employer's purpose or advancing the employer's interest, either directly or indirectly.

Was the maintenance worker’s fracture compensable?
A. No. The university did not require him to stay overnight.
B. Yes. He was benefiting his employer by staying overnight because doing so meant he would be available to shovel snow in the morning.

If you selected A, you agreed with the court in Harvey v. University of Arkansas, No. CV-23-90 (Arkansas Ct. App. 03/13/24), which held that the generalist was not performing employment services when he slipped.

The court pointed out that the generalist was not required to stay on campus. Instead, he volunteered to do so. Further, his shift had not started when he slipped, and he had not yet clocked into work. Further, he was not on the emergency call list.

The court acknowledged that there was evidence that the university benefited from having personnel stay in dorms when there was bad weather. However, that wasn’t sufficient to make the claim compensable.

The court noted that the employee was making a free choice to stay over–a choice that benefited him. Further, this was not a case of a worker who was required to be on campus and be available on a full-time basis.

Moreover, the generalist’s fall occurred when he was attending to personal needs, free to do as he chose, and not within the time and space boundaries of his employment. “[He] was not performing any activity inherently necessary for the performance of his job, and he was not indirectly advancing his employer's interests,” the court wrote.

Holding that reasonable minds could reach the conclusion that the generalist was not performing employment services at the time of his injury, the court affirmed the commission’s denial of the generalist’s workers’ compensation claim.


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