The coming and going rule prohibits collection of workers’ comp benefits when employees are injured on their commutes. However, there are exceptions. How might a shift swap enter into the equation?
Robert Decourcey Jr. worked for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) as a correctional officer.
On Jan. 6, 2009, another correctional officer contacted Decourcey and asked him to take his 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift so he could take his grandmother to the hospital. The other corrections officer would then work Decourcey’s 2 to 10 p.m. shift.
Decourcey agreed. On the way to work, he hit a patch of black ice and spun off into a ravine, suffering severe injuries.
He applied for workers’ comp, which was denied on the basis of the coming and going rule. However, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board reversed the ruling and awarded Decourcey comp benefits.
CDCR took the case to a state appeals court.
Special mission exception
The WC Appeals Board had decided that Decourcey should get comp because the special mission exception applied.
This exception says an injury suffered by an employee during his regular commute is compensable if he was also performing a special mission for his employer.
The appeals court said Decourcey’s shift swap didn’t meet one part of the special mission test: He wasn’t providing “extraordinary service to his employer simply by showing up for work in another’s place to perform routine duties.”
The sergeant in charge at the correctional facility said every shift must be fully staffed, therefore every shift was a special need.
But the appeals court said characterizing every shift as special made the concept of special meaningless.
The sergeant allowed officers to swap shifts without his approval. Decourcey said he swapped shifts an average of about ten times per year.
The court said shift swapping was therefore a normal part of the job and the special mission exception could not apply. For that reason, the court reversed the appeals board and said Decoursey should not receive workers’ comp benefits for the injuries he received in the car crash.
Note: There is a fine line, at least in California, when it comes to the special mission exception. The court noted it might have ruled differently if Decoursey’s boss had requested he report to work at a special time, especially if it was because of an emergency.
What do you think of the ruling? Let us know in the comments below.
(CDCR v. Decoursey, Court of Appeal of CA, 4th Dist., No. E054153, 8/28/12)