In an opinion filed in February, the Supreme Court of South Carolina held that South Carolina’s worker’s compensation system should cover the injuries suffered by a migrant worker when he slipped and broke his ankle in the living quarters provided, at no charge, by his employer. In finding so, the Court rejected the reasoning of the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which, in a similar case, had held that the worker’s injuries should not be compensated because the worker was not required by contract to live on the premises provided by the employer. In that case, the North Carolina court had also held that, at the time when he was injured, the worker was not engaged in an activity that benefited the employer’s business.
In Pierre v. Seaside Farms, Inc., the Supreme Court of South Carolina looked at the practical realities behind the terms of the written employment contract. The worker involved in the lawsuit had an employment agreement which said that his hours and days of employment were not set in advance, but dependent on the picking conditions in the field. The Court noted that the work site at issue was far from any potential residential rentals, that the worker was not paid enough to obtain other housing, and that the worker could be called in to work at any time, depending on the company’s needs. In addition, the employer had testified that it saw the provision of free housing to its migrant workers as part of the cost of doing business. Thus, the Court determined that the nature of the job (rather than the written contract) did require the worker to live on the employer’s premises.
Given this decision, when the nature of the work and the location of the work site make it necessary for an employee to live on the employer’s property, the employee is likely to be covered under workers’ compensation for injuries sustained while on those premises, as long as he or she is engaged in a “reasonable use” of the location.
The Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Lee & Smith serve clients in both South and North Carolina. For a free consultation regarding your workers’ compensation case, please contact us by phone or email.