When employees are injured on the job they are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, but not if the accident occurs on their commute to or from work – in most cases, at least.
But how about if an employee is injured in your parking lot, or on the walkway outside your office building, which you don’t own but in which you rent space?
There are basically two rules that govern at which point a worker is eligible for workers’ comp benefits if they sustain an injury:
- The coming and going rule, and
- The premises rule
The coming and going rule
Usually, an employer is not liable for providing workers’ compensation benefits for injuries sustained during a daily commute. This is known as the “coming and going” rule. However, like most things with law, there are exceptions and the rule is not as cut and dried as it would seem.
The exceptions to the “coming and going” rule usually consider whether the travel of the employee was somehow a benefit to the employer, and if it was closely related to the employee’s job duties. While there are many exceptions to the “coming and going” rule, they generally fall into four categories:
- The employee has no fixed place of employment and travels to multiple job sites – If a worker has to use his personal vehicle to travel to multiple job sites in one day and gets injured en route to one of these sites, the injuries would typically be compensable.
- The employee injures himself while traveling to a location away from his normal job site – Another exception applies when an employee is injured while away on a business trip. The general rule is that an employee is considered to be acting in the scope of his or her employment the whole time while away on business.
- The employee is on a special assignment for the employer – Although an employer is customarily not liable for injuries sustained by an employee en route to work, an injury is compensable if during his regular commute the employee also is performing a special errand or “mission” for his employer. Employers should think twice before asking an employee to perform a special task for them before coming into work.
- Travel is a significant part of the employee’s job duties – When an employer requires its employee to travel in order to accomplish their job duties, the “coming and going” rule does not apply.
Remember, the big question is whether an employee’s injuries occurred while they were performing their normal job duties. This rule would apply to outside sales people or repair persons, as well as pilots, bus drivers and truck drivers. For all of these individuals, travel is well within the scope of the employee’s course of employment.
The premises rule
The premises rule stipulates that if you as an employee are on the premises of your place of employment (including the parking lot), you are more or less “at work” already and should qualify for benefits if injured there.
In other words, if the employee is injured in the parking lot or on the walkway into the office, even if they had yet to clock in and start work, they would be eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
An employer’s premises are not limited under the rule to the areas owned or leased by the employer, but also to areas under their control. Various courts have held that employment starts when an employee arrives at a parking lot owned, maintained or used by the employer.
Even if the employer leases the building and the parking lot, they are still exercising control over the lot if their employees are directed to park there.
The premises rule also extends beyond the employer’s sphere of influence. For example, if a worker doing a job away from his main office is injured when he slips and falls during a stop for coffee or to use the restroom, he would likely be eligible for benefits since it occurred during the normal course of employment.
One recent case dealt with both of these issues when an employee for a private military contractor was injured while driving to work. He crashed his car after entering an Air Force base where his employer had mulitiple worksites. He was injured one mile from the base entrance inside the base, but still three to five miles away from his worksite.
A California appellate court ruled that he was eligible for benefits under the workers’ comp premises rule.
The lesson for employers here is that there are some instances where even the best workplace safety regimen can’t prevent an employee from sustaining a workplace injury. If they have an accident in the parking lot of the business building where you have an office, there is a good chance they could file a workers’ comp claim and receive benefits.
On the other hand, other dangers on your premises – think icy walkways – can be minimized with proper risk management, by alerting your landlord (if you rent) if there are such dangers, for example.