Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Was Fatal Trip Work-Related?

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Was Fatal Trip Work-Related?

Article excerpt

Brenneisen's job as a service station mechanic required her to wear a uniform consisting of pants and a shirt displaying her name and the word "Certicare." The uniforms were supplied by a company that cleaned and maintained them.

Each Friday morning, a representative of the uniform company picked up the soiled uniforms and left a clean supply. Employees who failed to leave their soiled uniforms at the station by Thursday night would have clean uniforms for the next week, but not for the week after that.

One Thursday, Brenneisen forgot to bring her dirty uniforms to work. So after finishing her workday, she clocked out and rode home on a fellow employee's motorcycle to retrieve her uniforms. She never made it back to the service station. After picking up the uniforms, the motorcycle she was riding on collided with a parked car, resulting in her death.

Brenneisen's family filed for workers' compensation death benefits, but her employer contested the claim.

At a hearing before the Missouri Industrial Relations Commission, the fact that Brenneisen had punched out when she headed home to pick up her soiled uniforms was not in dispute. Thus, the court determined, her workday was over, and when the fatal accident occurred, the court held, she was not in the course of employment. Benefits denied.

The decedent's family took the case to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District (Debbie Brenneisen v. Leach's Standard Service Station).

The case record had established that approximately $10 per week was deducted from each worker's pay to cover the cost of cleaning the uniforms, whether the uniforms had been cleaned or not. The owner of the service station had testified that:

* If an employee did not want money taken out of his paycheck for the uniforms, he was not considered a good employee and possibly would be terminated.

* Wearing of the uniform was mandatory.

* Wearing of the uniform was a benefit to both the employee and the employer.

The owner also testified that he frequently allowed employees to leave the service station during the workday to retrieve their dirty uniforms.

In its review of the case, the appeals court said the commission overlooked the "undisputed and crucial" fact that other employees, including the owner, traveled back and forth to their homes to pick up their uniforms. …

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