Work Premise Injuries: Considering Remote Employees

As the Oklahoma workforce becomes more mobile, working remotely from a physical office location, it may behoove employers to reconsider potential implications for workers’ compensation policies and
practices. With more employees accessing the physical office via internet, employers should give
consideration to defining/re-defining the parameters of course and scope employment activities.
In Oklahoma, a compensable work injury must occur within the course and scope of employment,
meaning that activity for which the employee was hired and relating to the work of the employer. Such
employment includes activities on an employer’s premises, those at some other location or travel in
furtherance of the employer’s affairs. The law excludes from course and scope: 1) transportation to and
from work; 2) business travel coinciding with a person activity; 3) parking lot or common area injuries
before starting/stopping work; and work break injuries occurring outside an employer’s premises.
In the recent case of Legarde-Bober v. OSU, the OK Supreme Court addressed course/scope exclusions,
examining the concept of what may constitute work premises. 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 while proceeding into the employer’s facility,
thereby sustaining injury. The Court noted 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 was the work premises. The Court also discussed the statutory
differentiation made between work break injuries outside the premises versus those occurring inside
and the Legislature’s clear intent to exempt the former as compensable.
The Court’s decision should give us pause to reconsider the notion of premises and the extent of
potential interpretation. What are the ‘premises’ for remote employees? Employers should consider
clearly defining, in writing, those activities deemed within course and scope of the remote employee’s
employment. Remote employees may work at home without defined hours, shifts, project parameters
and activity limitations. Employers should consider reviewing/updating employment policies and
protocols regarding such elements as work areas, work hours, break times, break procedures and even
travel to attempt to limit any potential workers compensation liability and exposure.