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Retrial ordered in case of remote worker injured in fall

Posted On: Jun. 28, 2019 2:12 PM CST

remote worker

Facts remain unclear in the case of a telecommuting customer service representative who slipped on ice while heading to see clients but not before taking his son to day care, an appeals court in Maryland said Thursday in its order for a retrial on whether the man’s injury is compensable.

Ryan Frederick, a Maryland resident who worked remotely for Bloomington, Minnesota-based Schwan Food Co., was required to travel in his personal car to various grocery stores throughout his state to meet with Schwan's delivery drivers and to receive inventory deliveries for each of his accounts, according to documents in Schwan Food Co. et al. v. Ryan Frederick, filed in the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in Annapolis, Maryland.

One morning in 2016, while still at home, Mr. Frederick used his employer-provided handheld computer to download his route for the day. His plan was to drop his son off at day care on the way to his first account, the Walmart in Ellicott City, Maryland. On his way out, he slipped on black ice on the sidewalk near his car in front of his home and suffered an injury to his right leg, according to documents.

Mr. Frederick later filed a claim with the Workers' Compensation Commission. Schwan subsequently maintained “that Mr. Frederick's injury was not compensable because he was on his way to drop off his son — a personal errand,” documents state. The commission denied the claim, finding that "the claimant did not sustain an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment," records state. 

Mr. Frederick petitioned for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County and requested a jury trial, which took place in 2017. The circuit court reversed, concluding that “Mr. Frederick had been working from his ‘home office’ before he set out to travel to his first account, and consequently, the injury that he sustained ‘arose out of and in the course of his employment,’” documents state.

On appeal, a judge wrote that “injuries sustained by the employee en route from the employee's home work site to another work-related site may arise out of and in the course of employment” and that the court must rely on a test — gauging place, time and activity at the time of injury — to discover whether a home qualifies as a worksite per state workers compensation law.

“In this case, we conclude that material facts remain in dispute as to whether Mr. Frederick's home qualified as a home work site and whether he had commenced his work day and was fulfilling his work duties, or something incident thereto, at the time of his injury,” the judge wrote. “Because it was for the jury to resolve these predicate factual issues, the circuit court erred in ruling, as a matter of law, that Mr. Frederick's injury arose out of and in the course of employment. Accordingly, we remand for a new trial.”

The company and attorneys involved could not immediately be reached for comment.