Wednesday, December 29, 2010

ERM-BC-COOP: Case of the Wounded Womb


Here's a thought: Can a person who works in a home office collect worker compensation for physical and mental injuries sustained as the result of a home invasion (a/k/a break-in)?

How about being cut opening a can of tuna during working hours - however "working hours" might be defined?

At first blush the questions may seem silly, inconsequential, frivolous.

But consider . . .

According to the Fayetteville (NC) Observer, as reported on the AdvisenFPN Web site (, - which, incidentally claims permission to republish the Observer article - a man shot in the face on his way to the school where he was the principal is entitled to workers compensation.

The school superintendent and NC Department of Public Instruction didn't think so, but the NC Industrial Commission ruled otherwise.

The reasoning, according to the Observer/AdvisenFPN piece, is that:

    (a) The school system paid the principal a biannual allowance to help cover travel expenses related to his job, including commuting to and from the school. Therefore, the principal technically was on school time when he was shot.

    (b) The principal was talking to a staff member about official school business on a district-issued cell phone when the unknown assailant pulled up and fired a shotgun blast through principal's driver's side window.

The shooter, incidentally, remains on the loose since April 2009.

I normally work from my home office, and typically I'm pretty careful when opening a can of tuna - or anything else for that matter. But what if during "normal" work hours, which for me easily could be 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, "something" happens?

Let's take this to what I consider an extreme case of silliness: let's assume a husband and wife team are working at home. During a break - some states require workers - especially female workers - to take breaks, the husband and wife engage in the games husbands and wives play with each other. For whatever reason, pregnancy preventive measures fail and the wife discovers she is with child. Could she file for workers compensation claiming her delicate condition is work related?

We are a litigious bunch, but is the Case of the Wounded Womb actionable?

As a reporter and later managing editor I learned that even if you win in court, you still lose. The defendants lose time in defending themselves, they lose money to lawyers and lost production, and sometimes suffer a reputation hit.

Bottom line: Don't Get Sued.

How can an organization - say a company that engages my expertise - protect itself?

Actually, in a very simple way.

Define, by contract/employment agreement, what shall be considered non-job related injuries - or, conversely, what can be considered job related injuries. The employer also can specify - in writing - what are considered "normal work hours."

As a risk management practitioner, I would work closely with both legal and HR staff to cover most possibilities with the correct legal phrasing.

That, of course, is not an absolute defense, but it should eliminate any workers comp claims for an unintended pregnancy.

What goes into a vendor contract should be considered for the organization's Policies and Procedures (once again, P&Ps are a risk management concern) and all employees must be made aware of the P&Ps . . . and confirm their awareness.

While the Case of the Wounded Womb is at best unlikely, there are ways - simple, low cost, ways - an organization can mitigate its exposure to threats of legal action and these ways are very much within the purview of a practitioner's recommendations.

John Glenn
Enterprise Risk Management practitioner
Hollywood - Fort Lauderdale Florida

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