Fall while walking to turn in timecard not compensable

A temporary university worker failed to prove that her fall on the way to turn in her timecard was work-related, an appellate court held Tuesday.

In Purcell v. Illinois Workers Compensation Commission, the Illinois Appellate Court, Fourth District, Workers Compensation Commission Division affirmed an Illinois Workers Compensation Commission’s decision denying a worker’s claim for benefits after finding that she failed to prove that her accident arose out of her employment.

Emily Purcell worked as an administrative assistant on a temporary basis at the University of Illinois. She was paid for 7.5 hours of work per day, Monday through Friday, and required to leave her office on a daily basis to perform various duties around campus.

Every other Friday, she was required to turn in her timecard at the Personnel Services Building. On Sept. 9, 2016, after she arrived on campus, she said she intended to walk to the Personnel Services Building to drop off her timecard and approached a chain barrier. She said she attempted to hop over it, but her shoe got caught and she fell, injuring her right elbow. She was taken by ambulance to a hospital and underwent surgery about a week later.

She admitted that just 15 feet to the left of where she fell there was no fence, and that no obstructions would have prevented her from taking a route that did not require going over a fence.

The university said that temporary workers were not paid for the time it took them to physically drop off their timecards and that a dropbox was available for cards turned in outside of hours.

An arbitrator found that Ms. Purcell’s misunderstanding that she could turn in her timecard during work hours did not make her activity work-related and found that her decision to hop over the fence was a personal risk unrelated to her employment. The commission agreed, denying her workers compensation for her injuries.

She appealed, but the appellate court affirmed the commission decision, holding that Ms. Purcell’s injuries did not arise out of her employment. The court held that her decision to hop over the fence rather than going around would have “only taken an extra few seconds” and her choice, which led to the injury, “was for her own benefit and not to the benefit of the university.”

The appellate court also dismissed her assertions that she was a traveling employee since she routinely performed tasks outside the office, affirming the commission’s decision that her act of traveling to other campus buildings “was not an essential element” of her employment.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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