IOWA DEPUTY COMMISSIONER PROVIDES GUIDANCE ON COMPENSABILITY WHEN AN EMPLOYEE IS INJURED WHILE VIOLATING EMPLOYER’S POLICIES
Goede v. US Xpress, Inc. provides an example on how an injured employee could still receive workers’ compensation benefits even though the employee’s injury resulted from violations of the employer’s company policies.
In some circumstances, an employee may be barred by statute from receiving workers compensation benefits if the employee’s injuries arose out of a violation of an employer’s safety policy or activities that are specifically prohibited by the employer. However, not every injury resulting from a violation of a statute or policy removes an employee from the course of his or her employment. When an employee is injured performing a service he or she is employed to do or is doing something incidental to employment, but does it in an unlawful or forbidden manner, the courts have found that generally the employee does not depart from his or her employment even though the injury is a consequence of such violation. For example, if a delivery driver is speeding against company policy while making a delivery and is injured in an accident, the driver is still within the course of his or her employment because the driver was doing what he or she was employed to do - driving.
However, when the service the employee is performing is itself prohibited, then that violation of a statute or policy removes the employee from the course of the employee’s employment. For example, if a delivery driver is injured in the process of stealing an item from a customer’s home, then the employee’s injuries would no longer be in the course of his or her employment because the act of stealing is prohibited.
In Goede, the injured truck driver employee had finished her driving shift and went to rest, as required, in her bunk while her co-driver continued driving. Before falling asleep, the employee drank two “shooters” of alcohol, which was against company policy. Additionally, she did not use the available restraints to secure herself in the bunk, which was also against company policy. While the employee was asleep, the truck was involved in a motor vehicle accident. The employee fell out of her bunk and suffered several serious injuries.
The employer argued that the employee’s violation of its safety policies pertaining to alcohol use and bunk restraints removed her from the course of her employment, so that she should be ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
The Deputy Commissioner determined that while the employee did, in fact, violate two of her employer’s policies, her actions did not remove her from the course of her employment. The Deputy found that the employer’s policy required the employee to rest in the bunk, meaning the rest period itself was not prohibited. The employee was injured performing a service she was employed to do, so the unlawful manner of performing that service did not remove her from her course of employment.
Therefore, the Deputy Commissioner held that the employee was injured in the course of her employment, and that she should receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Additionally, the employer asserted an intoxication defense as set forth in Section 85.16 of the Iowa Code. The Section creates a presumption of intoxication when a positive test shows “the presence of alcohol.” To overcome the defense, employees must prove that their intoxication was not a substantial factor in causing their injury.
In Goede, the employer obtained a copy of the employee’s blood alcohol test indicating the presence of alcohol, which triggered the presumption of intoxication under Section 85.16. However, the Deputy Commissioner found that the employee’s intoxication did not impact her decision not to use the bunk restraints, as the employee did not regularly use them. Furthermore, the employee’s intoxication had no causal impact on the accident itself, as she was sleeping at the moment of collision. She had no opportunity to react, whether intoxicated or not. Whether the bunk restraints would have minimized her injuries will never be known.
Accordingly, the Deputy Commissioner held that the employee’s intoxication was not a substantial factor in causing her injury, so the employer’s affirmative intoxication defense was overcome, and the employee was granted workers’ compensation benefits.
This post was drafted by Faith Kowalski, a law clerk at Baylor Evnen. If you have questions regarding injuries arising from violations of company policies, please call Paul Barta or Micah Hawker-Boehnke at 402-475-1075.