Safety and OSHA News

Was he a traveling employee? Answer will determine comp eligibility

An employee reported each morning to his employer’s central office. From there, he spent most of the rest of his workday going from one customer location to another. One morning, he crashed a company vehicle on his way to the office. Will he get workers’ comp benefits? 

Dane Holler worked for Tri Wire Engineering Solutions in Pennsylvania. As a courtesy, Tri Wire allowed him to take his company vehicle home each night and use it to report back to work in the morning. The company prohibited Holler from using the vehicle for any other purpose.

Holler worked as a cable technician.  When he reported to Tri Wire’s office each morning, he received his assignments for the day and picked up his equipment. Then he spent the rest of his workday traveling to and working at customer locations.

On the morning of Aug. 13, 2010, Holler was driving the company vehicle to Tri Wire’s office when he ran off the road and struck a telephone pole. He suffered significant injuries and hasn’t been able to return to work since the crash.

Holler applied for workers’ comp benefits. Tri Wire objected to the claim on the basis that his injuries didn’t occur during the course and scope of his employment.

A Workers’ Compensation Judge determined Holler had a fixed place of work, therefore he wasn’t in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the crash. The WCJ denied his workers’ comp claim. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board upheld the WCJ’s decision.

Holler took his case to a state court which recently ruled on whether the appeal board’s decision was correct.

Under Pennsylvania’s workers’ comp law, the going and coming rule says injuries suffered while an employee is traveling to and from his place of employment are considered outside the course and scope of employment. However, there are four possible exceptions:

  1. The worker’s employment contract includes transportation to and from work
  2. The employee has no fixed place of work
  3. The employee is on a special mission for the employer, or
  4. The employee is traveling under special circumstances that further the business of the employer.

Holler argued the appeal board erred when it determined he had a fixed place of work.

The court noted that previous case law in Pennsylvania said, among other things, that “the fact that an employer has a central office at which an employee sometimes works is not controlling.” In other words, that doesn’t necessarily mean the worker isn’t a traveling employee.

Also, the state court had ruled in a previous case that a cable technician was a traveling employee. That case and Holler’s were virtually identical, according to the court.

Therefore, the court found Holler was a traveling employee and he could collect workers’ comp benefits for the injuries he suffered in the vehicle crash.

We give our standard caveat: Workers’ comp law varies from state to state. Some states may come to a similar finding in this type of case, but there’s no guarantee.

What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments.

(Dane Holler v. Tri Wire Engineering Solutions, Commonwealth Court of PA, No. 2209 C.D. 2013, 8/22/14)

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