Injuries Sustained During Telecommuting Employee’s Personal Breaks May Be Compensable
In recent years, some courts have found the personal comfort doctrine to apply to employees working from a home office. The personal comfort doctrine provides that an employee is still in the course of employment when he or she takes short breaks during the work day, such as for eating, drinking, using the restroom, smoking, and similar activities. Therefore, if the employee sustains an injury during such breaks, it is compensable under the state’s workers’ compensation statute.
Courts in Nebraska have not yet ruled on a case involving the personal comfort doctrine and an employee working from home. However, in 1994, the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court decided that an employee who is on call at home is covered by the personal comfort doctrine. Duckers v. Lutjeharms, Doc. 194 No. 1030 (1994). In Duckers, the plaintiff was employed as a manager for the apartment building she lived in, which required her to always be on call to accept rent payments, assist with tenant lock-outs, and answer telephone calls. The plaintiff fell on icy steps while leaving the apartment building to go to the grocery store, resulting in an injury that the court found to be compensable. The Duckers court stated: “…the coverage status of on-call employees compares to issues covered within the personal comfort doctrine… an employee continuously on call must necessarily periodically leave the premises for personal errands.”
Tip for employers: While employers cannot completely eliminate safety hazards in a home office setting, just as they cannot on their own premises, the Duckers case is a good reminder that they should make an effort to ensure that on-call and telecommuting employees are in a safe working environment. For more information about the personal comfort doctrine and employers’ liability regarding employees who work from home, please contact any of the workers’ compensation attorneys at Baylor Evnen at (402) 475-1075.