We ran across this story from the Idaho Business Review website today:
“The Idaho Supreme Court recently affirmed the Idaho Industrial Commission’s determination that Michael Vawter, a former delivery driver for United Parcel Service (UPS), was entitled to worker’s compensation benefits when he injured his back while tying his boots at work.”
The basic summary is that Mr. Vawter, while clocked in, went to tie his shoelace and felt a pop and pain in his lower back. He was aware that UPS had a “no loose or dangling parts” shoe policy. After medical treatment including a couple back surgeries he filed for a worker’s compensation complaint. UPS denied the claim. The Idaho Industrial Commission and the Idaho Supreme Court confirmed that he needed to have his boots tied according to UPS policy to perform his work, and the injury was connected to his employment. UPS was responsible for paying the entire claim.
Workers’ Comp State by State Variance
Decisions made under work comp rules vary greatly from state to state. Some state rules are notoriously slanted in favor of the injured worker. An argument could have been made by the employer that tying one’s shoe was NOT within the course and scope of employment. Employees are expected to report for work ready to go. There were arguments recently in some coal producing states that the time employees took to put on their safety gear before entering the mine was NOT work-time. The employee’s work day started when he entered the elevator at the mouth of the mine.
The opposite is also true. A casino worker in Nevada was leaving the company parking lot after her shift. As she entered the exit ramp from the lot and nosed into the street, the casino worker’s car was struck by a speeding motorist in the traffic lane. Because the worker’s car was PARTIALLY still on property owned by the casino, work comp benefits were paid. There are websites you can subscribe to that highlight the inconsistencies and flat-out bone-head decisions that are rendered as a result of work comp disputes.
This Is Why Workers’ Comp and Safety Policies Exist
When an employer has workers’ comp insurance (as all employers should) the employer pays a premium and if an employee is injured or becomes ill on the work-site or as a result of employment the employee is entitled to coverage for medical and lost time. In most states, the employer is not able to be sued by the employee as the injury/illness were covered in total. This is called “Exclusive Remedy”. There are two exceptions (depending upon which state you are in) to exclusive remedy. In the case where an employer is found to be “willfully negligent” in maintaining a safe workplace or where the employer has not purchased a Workers’ Compensation policy the employee may seek remedy in court.
The point is, as an employer, one would do well to make sure that the safety policies you expect everyone to abide by are pertinent to the enterprise and complete in their meaning. An old safety guy saying goes, “The safety work isn’t done until the weight of the policies and procedures manual equals the combined weight of the employees on staff.”
The Author, Karen Sheehan, makes a great point at the end of this story that is a great take-away for employers. “Employers should review all policies to make sure they may not lead to a worker’s compensation claim.”
Check out the full story at Idahobusinessreview.com here > Untied Shoelace Leads to a Workers Comp Claim