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Can my personal health condition prevent me from obtaining workers compensation benefits?

In a recent case, a court was asked to decide whether an employee’s obesity was the primary cause of a work injury which would have prevented the employee from receiving benefits.  The court announced that the determining factor was whether the employee was injured while performing an activity that was part of his/her job. If the employee was injured while on duty and working, then she is eligible for benefits.

In this case, the employee worked for a local courthouse.  It was her job to keep the courthouse clean.  She cleaned the floors, the restrooms, and removed the trash.  One morning as she spoke to her supervisor, the employee realized that some medication that she had put in her pocket had fallen out.  Her supervisor pointed it out on the floor, so the employee walked over to it and picked it up off the ground.  As the employee bent down to pick it up, she dislocated her knee and fell to the floor.  Not only was the employee obese, but she had already undergone two surgeries to repair her knee.

It was found that the pressure of the employee’s weight when she bent over caused her knee injury.  When the employee applied for workers’ compensation benefits, her employer denied the benefits based on the fact that it was her weight condition that caused her knee injury.

When the claim arrived at court, the Court announced that an employee’s accidental injury must arise both “out of…the course of the employment” and “in the course of the employment”.  In other words, the accident must be:

  1. related to a risk of the employment; and
  2. must be reasonable to that particular job.

In our claim, the employee was bending down to pick her medication off the floor.  She was on duty when she did this act, and it was her job responsibility to keep the courthouse floors clean.  Her actions arose out of and in the course of her employment.

What about the employee’s obesity? The Court stated that the employee’s weight condition does not affect the result.  An employee need not be in perfect health to receive workers’ compensation benefits.  The employer takes his employee as it finds him and assumes the risk of a health condition.  Compensation is awarded for an injury which is a hazard of the employment.  The employee cannot be denied benefits just because of her predisposition to dislocate her knee.

What about the fact that the employee was picking up her own medication? It does not matter that the employee was picking up her own medication off the ground because it was part of the employee’s job to keep the floors clean.  She was required to pick up the medication on the ground whether it was hers or not.  Courts have also stated that acts such as quenching thirst and eating are part of employment.  Taking required medication is a personal necessity that will usually not disrupt regular employment.

The Court held that the employee was eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits because she injured her knee as she performed a task related to her job while she was on duty.

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