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Implied Duty Rates Worker’s Comp
by Ron Davis
An employee of a New Jersey shopping center tenant will receive benefits to compensate for a severe injury she suffered just before arriving for work one morning.
Her employer operates a hairdresser shop, and the employee, on the day of the accident, had driven into the parking lot of the center to begin work. En route to work, however, she had purchased coffee for her coworkers. Such purchases had been part of her daily routine for several years, and her employer duly repaid her for the coffee expense.
After parking her car that morning, she got out and went around to the passenger side to get the coffee that she had purchased. But as she opened the door, a truck veered off the adjacent highway and struck her. She sustained injuries that required surgery, including amputation of a leg.
She later applied for worker’s compensation, and at a hearing, she explained that even though she was not at work at the time of the accident, in a sense she was performing a work duty. She acknowledged that no one had directed her to get the coffee on that day, though she added that “it was just something that I did” and was expected of her.
On the other hand, her employer pointed out that although he repaid her for the coffee, he did not pay her for the time spent stopping for the purchase, nor for her delivery service. Moreover, to receive worker’s compensation in New Jersey for a job-related injury, an employee must show that the activity resulting in the injury is a “regular incident of employment and provides some benefit to the employer beyond the improvement in employee health and morale.”
Nevertheless, the state’s supreme court has recognized that an employer retains the power to expand the scope of employment by directing the employee to engage in tasks outside the employee’s general duties.
In upholding the award of worker’s compensation to the employee, a New Jersey court explained, “This is not a case in which one employee decides to treat the others on a daily basis or to do a favor for them by picking up coffee subject to reimbursement.... An employer who simply tolerates that type of cooperative activity among coworkers would not subject his or her business to liability for injuries sustained as a consequence. This case is quite different. In picking up the morning coffee, the injured woman was doing something that the employer would have done himself or asked another employee to do if she did not. It was done at the employer’s expense.... She reasonably understood her duties to include the morning stop for coffee.... At the moment of her catastrophic accident, she was retrieving from the passenger side of her car the coffee that her employer expected her to bring to the shop for her coworkers.” (Rose v. Joey Sinopoli’s Haircutters, 2006 WL 2334988 [N.J. Super. A.D.])
Decision: August 2006
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