Employees in the modern workforce are always on the go. This creates a number of issues for anyone on the claims management team when an incident occurs. With more employees not being confined to a single location during a workday, it is essential to understand the many associated issues before they arise and correctly manage the risk.
All issues regarding traveling employees and issues concerning compensability are fact-specific. Although there are general rules, it is important to understand the various jurisdictional nuances that will impact your claims. Always consult with an attorney when the need arises.
Commuting to Work
As a general rule, employees who commute to and from a workplace are not under the protections of a workers’ compensation act. This is based upon the premise that in order to have a valid claim, the injury must 1) arise out of; and 2) be in the course of the employment. Notwithstanding this rule, there are some notable exceptions. These include:
- Injuries that occur during a meal time that furthers the interests of the employer; or
- Cases where the injuries occurs on an extension of the employer’s premises. Prime examples of this include workplace ingress and egress.
The law governing employees who work at home or telecommute is murky and developing.
Travel between Places of Employment
In some instances, and employee may have job duties that occur in varying locations. Examples of this include a custodian who manages several properties or a nurse who travels to different hospitals or clinics in the course of a normal workday.
Courts generally have found injuries compensable when they occur while the employee is traveling between multiple work locations. The rationale follows the central tenants of a valid claim—whether the injury in question arose out of and was in the course of their employment. On the other hand, various gray areas arise when that employee is injured, but conducting actions that are purely personal.
Exceptions for “Special Errands”
In many instances, there is a deviation from an employees work activities. When an injury occurs while performing that deviation, questions arise concerning compensability. Each jurisdiction defines what constitutes a “special errand” is found either in statute, rule or supporting case law. In one example, a court defined it as an instance where an employee was performing a “special mission” either for or at the request of their employer, while they were in the course of employment.
When reviewing these matters, courts will examine closely the details concerning the errand. This analysis will often include:
- Who made the request (either implied or express) and when the service was to be performed;
- The integral nature of the errand just prior to the work injury; and
- If the task being performed was regular in frequency, or if it was something exceptional.
Other Matters to Consider
As is often the case with the legal matters of workers’ compensation and issues of compensability, courts generally are in tune to the social norms and demands of the modern workplace. The rise of telecommuting and people working from home has given pause to claims management teams when it comes to admitting or denying a claim. At this point, there is no general rule concern employees who work inside their own home. The result uncertainty requires interested stakeholders to use existing case law as a guide in their many challenges.
Workers’ compensation programs present many challenges to the claims management team and other interested stakeholders. One issue that continues to cause great pain concerns issues of compensability when it comes to a traveling employee. While there are often no clear cut answers, the demand for a vigorous investigation and consultation with legal counsel may provide answers.
 Bengston v. Greening, 230 Minn. 139, 41 N.W.2d 185 (1950).
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Author Michael Stack, Principal, COMPClub, Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their work comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder of COMPClub, an exclusive member training program on workers compensation cost containment best practices.
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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.