In Massachusetts most employers must have workers’ compensation to cover injuries that their workers sustain on the job. Usually, an injury sustained during the workers’ commute is not compensable, but there are certain exceptions. For example, someone paid hourly who is compensated for travel time may be able to claim workers’ compensation. Somebody whose commute benefits the employer in a tangible way may also be compensated for injuries sustained on the road.
In a recent case, a Massachusetts employee was expected to be available to his employer via cell phone 24/7. He commuted to work in a pickup truck that his employer provided, asking that he use it through the year so that it would be ready to plow snow during the winter.
One night he was driving the truck to his job working the nightshift. A deer walked onto the road. In swerving to avoid it, he crashed into a guardrail on the side of the road and was injured. He filed a workers’ compensation claim.
The administrative judge made several findings, including a finding that the employee wasn’t on call during the commute. He also gave credit to the worker’s testimony that the employer said he could use the vehicle for the commute to avoid putting wear and tear on his own vehicle. However, the administrative judge found that the employee’s accident was not a work accident to which workers’ compensation applied. In so finding, he applied the “going and coming rule.”
The “going and coming rule” prevents employees who are injured while going to or coming from work from being eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The administrative judge explained that both the worker and his employer received benefits from the use of the truck for the commute. He emphasized the benefit to the worker in then concluding that the fact the work used a company vehicle was not material to the issue of benefits.
The employee appealed to the Massachusetts reviewing board, which affirmed the ruling. He then appealed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court.
The Appeals Court found the lower courts had made a legal error. Although the going and coming rule bars eligibility for injuries that occur on the way to work or away from work, there is an exception where an worker’s authorized activities during the commute are to the employer’s benefit. the employer.
If a worker is furthering an employer’s purposes, he is engaged in the employer’s business. He is in the “scope of employment” driven by the goal of serving the employer. His injuries in that context are compensable.
The Appeals Court further explained that when an employer authorizes an action that moves its own business interest forward and exposes an employee to street risks, workers’ compensation applies. Similarly if a worker is “on call” as in this case, an injury may be compensable in Massachusetts even if the worker is not actually on the clock or being paid. The reviewing board’s decision was vacated.
If you have been injured on the job or while acting for your employer’s benefit, the help of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can make a difference to your case. Contact Boston workers’ compensation attorney Michael O. Smith at 617-263-0060 or via our website for a consultation.