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Workers' Compensation

MO: Personal Comfort Doctrine Allows Benefits For Making Coffee At Work

Missouri reform narrowed the definition of accident and left unresolved whether accidents arising out of activities that were not part of an employee’s direct job duties were still compensable.  A hazard of employment may still arise under employment under the personal comfort doctrine, even if it is not part of an employee’s duties, according to a recent Commission case, Johme v St. John’s Mercy Medical Center, DOLIR 2-22-11. 

Claimant broke her pelvis when she twisted her leg after making a new pot of coffee at work. The Commission found the accident arose out of claimant's employment as a patient billing representative, although her job did not require her to make coffee. The commission reversed a denial of benefits, and considered that statutory reform did not abrogate an 80-year history that allowed compensation when a claimant's accident arises from some activities ancillary to employment.  To determine compensability, the cases apply a three prong test:  there is some benefit to the employer, the departure from employment was not great, and the method chosen was not unusual or unreasonable.  An employer benefits when a claimant drinks at work.  Coffee, in particular, gives employees energy and more focus. Claimant did not take a lot of time to do make a new pot, and performed the activity in a reasonable matter. The employer did not prohibit the activity and provided coffee supplies.  The Commission found that the hazard was deemed related to employment and did not reach the second statutory prong: whether claimant’s hazard was an equal exposure to non-employment life. Claimant testified that she had no hazard to "making coffee" on the weekends, because she states she only drank coffee on the job. The parties litigated the case on the legal issue only, and stipulated to medical expenses, TTD, and PPD.

Source: Martin Klug, Huck, Howe & Tobin. Read Martin Klug’s Mo. Workers’ Comp Alerts.

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