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California -- Worker Hurt While Wrapping Her Own Purchase Entitled to Benefits:  [03/30/09]

 A Costco employee who slipped and fell while picking up a cake for her sister was acting within the scope of employment, the California 5th District Court of Appeals ruled.

Case: Costco Wholesale v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (Slayton), F057008, 03/27/2009.

Facts: Yvonne Slayton worked in the delicatessen department at Costco's Modesto store, but also occasionally helped out in the bakery. On July 15, 2006, Slayton told her coworker that she had decided to clock out early, but first planned to stop by the bakery and pick up a cake that she had ordered for her sister earlier in the day.

Costco policy prohibited employees from purchasing items while on duty, but they could do so on breaks, as Slayton had done. According to testimony, employees routinely set aside purchases that they would take home after completing their shifts.

When Slayton arrived at the bakery, the sole employee stationed there was attending to four waiting customers. The case was not on the rack that is normally used for purchases awaiting pickup, so she decided to package it herself.

Slayton fell while carrying the cake, injuring her right knee. Costco denied her claim, saying it did not arise out of or occur in the course of employment.

Procedural: An administrative law judge ruled that the injury did arise out of and in the course of employment. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board denied Costco's petition for reconsideration.

On appeal, Costco argued that Slayton's injury did not occur while in the course of employment, because she was not acting to further its business interests, but instead was making a purchase on behalf of her sister.

Analysis: In its majority opinion, the 5th DCA WCAB recited testimony that Slayton had told her coworker before picking up the case that she would “be right back,” meaning that her work shift had not yet ended.

The court noted that when Slayton saw the only worker stationed in the bakery was busy with customers, she decided to wrap and package the cake herself.

“While perhaps personally motivated to help her sister with purchasing the cake, Slayton was simultaneously furthering Costco's business activities, which included producing, packaging, and selling cakes,” the court said in its opinion. “If Slayton had not retrieved the cake herself, another staff member would have been needed to perform the task.”

Disposition: Affirmed.



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