On the Road Again: Compensability on the New Jersey Roadways
In New Jersey, an injury sustained during employee’s travel to and from the workplace is generally not a compensable injury. This is commonly referred to as the “going and coming rule.” This rule developed in a time where employees commonly worked in a single, physical location such as an office or a store. The course and scope of an employee’s work began once she arrived at the office or store and it ended when the employee left for the day.
Today, for many employees, the workplace is rarely a fixed location. Business professionals travel to distant cities to impress clients with a three-cocktail lunch. Defense attorneys travel to and from court to fight the good fight. Service technicians make house calls to service anything from your washing machine to your telephone lines. With the advent of telecommuting, employees can work from anywhere. So how can we determine if an injury during travel is compensable?
The tried and true “course and scope of employment” once again guides us. If an injury occurs in the course and scope of employment, it is compensable. In New Jersey, if an employee is traveling between her home and a special assignment for work purposes, such as a business meeting or an installation site, courts will often find this travel covered for compensation purposes. The courts reason that the employer is obtaining a benefit from the employee traveling to the special assignment and, thus, the travel is in the course and scope of employment.
The issue becomes murkier when an injury occurs when an employee is traveling home from a special assignment. Is the employer still obtaining a benefit? Or is this the equivalent of driving home from the office? Travel to an employee’s home from the last job site might be compensable, depending upon the facts of the claim. However, there is greater room for argument that the employer was not obtaining a benefit, so it was not within the course and scope of employment.
How about if an employee is traveling between job sites and he stops for a bathroom or cigarette break and is injured? Does the fact that he is taking a small break from his work-related travel take him out of the course and scope of employment? No. New Jersey courts have found that actions such as these are minor deviations and compensability still attaches.
But let’s go a step further. After the three-cocktail lunch, our business professional leaves the clients and decides to go take in the sights at the nearest National Park. As luck would have it, the local wildlife is out. He sees a cute roadrunner and a wile coyote heading straight for him. In his frantic attempt to avoid impending doom, he trips on a stick and breaks his ankle. Compensable? Not in New Jersey. Courts have found that stopping for these types of activities are major deviations and, therefore, not compensable.
Just like the New Jersey roadways, compensability of injuries during travel can be tricky. The case law is filled with exceptions to the going and coming rule and judges of compensation can view these travel time cases very differently. Goldberg Segalla is happy to help you sort through these issues, so you can save your expletives for the road.