OK Work Comp ‘Course and Scope’ Update

Yesterday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a decision further clarifying ‘course and scope of employment’ under the Oklahoma Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act.  I previously issued an article discussing this concept as address in a prior OK Supreme Court decision, noting ‘course and scope’ considerations to be one of the more fact intensive inquiries we face in analyzing WC claims.  As we have a little more direction on this issue, I wanted to provide an additional update:

 

Compensable Injury

 

A compensable injury means “damage or harm to the physical structure of the body…arising out of the course and scope of employment.” 85A O.S. § 2(9)(a).

 

Course and Scope

 

Includes “activity of any kind or character for which the employee was hired and that relates to and derives from the work, business, trade or profession of an employer.”  It includes activities in furtherance of the affairs or business of an employer either on employer premises, at other designated locations or travel specifically directed by the employer. 85A O.S. § 13.

 

Not Course and Scope

 

  1. Transportation to and from an employee’s place of employment;
  2. Employee travel which is also in furtherance of a personal or private affair of the employee;
  3. Any injury in a parking lot or other common area adjacent to an employer’s place of business before the employee clocks in or otherwise stops work for the employer; or
  4. Any injury on a work break, unless inside the employee’s facility and authorized by the employee’s supervisor. See 85A O.S. § 13(a)-(d).

 

Bober v. OSU

 

On 6/28/16, the OK Supreme Court issued an opinion addressing course and scope under the Administrative WC Act.  In Legarde-Bober, Claimant was a teacher at the child development building on the OSU-OKC campus.  While exiting a parking lot, owned/maintained by OSU, Claimant slipped on ice going into the employer’s facility, sustaining injury.  Claimant lacked the option to work remotely and was required to appear at the employer’s facility to perform her job.  Though Claimant had not clocked-in or begun work, the Court found the common parking lot, beyond the building, was not adjacent to the place of business, but rather the lot itself (on the campus) was the work premises.  Bober was thought to be a somewhat unique situation, where the entire employer premises were located on a larger campus environment.

 

Yesterday’s Decision

 

Yesterday, the OK Supreme Court further discussed ‘course and scope’ considerations in the case of Brown v. Claims Management Resources, Inc., 2017 OK 13.  In Brown, Claimant worked as a claims adjuster.  His work station was located on the second floor of a building determined to be owned by the Employer.  At the time of injury, Claimant had: 1) finished his job duties; 2) clocked out; and 3) was leaving for the day.  Claimant fell and sustained injury while using an interior stairwell to go to the parking lot.  Though Claimant could have used an elevator, there was evidence in the case that Employer instituted a wellness program, encouraging employees to use the stairs.  Use of the stairs was in no way a requirement though.  Employer argued the stairwell was a common area, equally accessible to other building tenants on the first floor.

 

Claimant argued that ingress/egress to an employee’s work station is a necessary aspect of employment and should not be excluded as a compensable injury.  Applying the same principle as Bober, the Court determined the issue of Claimant’s clocking-out/clocking-in was not relevant as Claimant never left the Employer’s premises when the injury occurred.  The Court determined the Employer owned the entire building and the internal stairwell was not adjacent to the premises, but rather it was the premises itself.  Because Claimant was following the Employer’s direction when reporting to work at the premises and leaving his work station after clocking-out to leave the premises, the Court found Claimant’s injury to be within the course and scope of employment.  The Court also touched on the issue of ‘employment services’, but found that Claimant was performing his assigned duties and that “other necessities of employment specified by the employer” are also ‘employment services’.  Here, the Court found that in clocking-out and leaving the 2nd floor premises after his work shift, Claimant was complying with the Employer’s direction and still performing employment services at the time of injury.

 

Considerations

 

The Brown decision further clarifies the importance of evaluating ownership/control of the premises related to a WC injury.  Unlike the somewhat unusual campus-type situation in Bober, injury in a common stairwell, in an employer-owned facility, is much more common.  The Court has yet to specifically address the course and scope exception in Section 4 above and did indicate previously that a work break injury outside the premises will likely be a different situation due to Legislature’s clearer language on that carve out.

 

Moving forward, the clocking-in/clocking-out issue is likely a moot consideration if the Claimant is on Employer premises or areas direct by the Employer (designated parking lot).  Overall, this inquiry continues to be highly fact intensive and is often best-handled with a case-by-case evaluation process.  We will continue to monitor further developments from the Supreme Court which may clarify these issues further.