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Legal Trends

Going and Coming Rule Found Exempt in Workers’ Compensation Case

A Pennsylvania court calls into question the limitations on the going and coming rule.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 4 min read

The “going and coming” rule states that workers’ compensation benefits do not apply to injuries sustained while commuting to or from work, but that line in the sand can get a little blurred when the employee is driving a company-owned vehicle.

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Such was the case when Shawn Fields and Herman Strother, two employees of Carl G’s Total Cleanouts, transported debris from a job site to a scrapyard. While in transit, the men crashed. Strother was fine, but Fields was injured in the incident.

Fields filed for workers’ compensation, believing his injury occurred on the job. Carl G’s, however, did not see it that way. The demolition and excavation company said that because Fields was off the property at time of injury it was not liable for his comp coverage.

The case was brought before a workers’ compensation judge, who asked Fields to explain how his injury arose in the “course and scope of employment.”

Fields explained the scenario: He and Strother were working at the same job site for about three weeks. One day, when the crew finished up, they decided to take the company truck filled with waste materials and drop them off at a nearby scrapyard. Afterwards, Strother would drop Fields off at home and return the vehicle to the Carl G’s job site.

But instead, the men were involved in an accident. In his argument, Fields said he was an exception to the going and coming rule; he was working for Carl G’s at the time of the accident and injury.

The judge looked to his predecessors. In previous rulings of similar nature, the court found the going and coming rule applied to when there was a fixed place of work. Fields, the judge ruled, had a fixed place of work — Carl G’s crew had been at the same location for three weeks. The judge determined the going and coming rule applied because it was a fixed location, and Carl G’s was not responsible for workers’ comp coverage.

Fields appealed.

The “going and coming” rule states that workers’ compensation benefits do not apply to injuries sustained while commuting to or from work, but that line in the sand can get a little blurred when the employee is driving a company-owned vehicle.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania looked at the judge’s ruling, re-examining the “course and scope” clause.

“The WCJ concluded that Claimant had failed to demonstrate that the injury occurred in the course and scope of employment because Claimant was commuting home from work at the time of the accident,” the court said. “The WCJ … focused the inquiry on whether Claimant’s place of work was fixed because of the ad hoc nature of his employment.”

The court reviewed Pennsylvania’s exceptions to the going and coming rule, particularly the one in which an employee would receive benefits if they were acting under the company.

Fields was, in this case, traveling to and from a scrapyard for work. His injuries stemmed from part of his job duties and not from a personal commute home, the court decided.

“Based on the facts found by the WCJ and the supporting evidence, there is substantial evidence to support the legal conclusion that Claimant was furthering the business of Employer when he was injured,” it concluded.

Carl G’s was responsible to pay workers’ comp benefits to Fields.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are several exceptions to the going and coming rule that most states acknowledge and turn to when the rule is up for debate.

When an employee is using a company vehicle to commute to or from a location, then the going and coming rule doesn’t apply. In Fields’s appeal, the court looked to this exception when it overturned the workers’ comp judge’s ruling.

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Other exceptions include:

If an employee’s job description requires them to be on the road. An example would be someone working in the postal service or cross-country as a truck driver.

If an employee is traveling between multiple job sites. An example would be a computer technician driving from one office building to the next. This does not include the worker’s commute to and from work each day, but instead looks at time spent on the road during a shift.

If an employee is traveling commercially. An example would be a person traveling on a business trip. Typically, the entire time spent away from the office — from beginning of travel to journey’s end — is covered under workers’ comp policies for most businesses.

If an employee is sent out on a special errand. An example would be an employee being asked to grab the manager a cup of coffee from a local shop or pick up lunch for the team.

Knowing the exceptions can better prepare employees and employers on duties that can be performed under the going and coming rule.

To read the full court opinion on Fields’s case, see Shawn Fields vs. Workers Compensation Appeal Board.

Autumn Heisler is digital producer and staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Report: Manufacturing

More Robots Enter Into Manufacturing Industry

With more jobs utilizing technology advancements, manufacturing turns to cobots to help ease talent gaps.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 6 min read

The U.S. manufacturing industry is at a crossroads.

Faced with a shortfall of as many as two million workers between now and 2025, the sector needs to either reinvent itself by making it a more attractive career choice for college and high school graduates or face extinction. It also needs to shed its image as a dull, unfashionable place to work, where employees are stuck in dead-end repetitive jobs.

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Added to that are the multiple risks caused by the increasing use of automation, sensors and collaborative robots (cobots) in the manufacturing process, including product defects and worker injuries. That’s not to mention the increased exposure to cyber attacks as manufacturers and their facilities become more globally interconnected through the use of smart technology.

If the industry wishes to continue to move forward at its current rapid pace, then manufacturers need to work with schools, governments and the community to provide educational outreach and apprenticeship programs. They must change the perception of the industry and attract new talent. They also need to understand and to mitigate the risks presented by the increased use of technology in the manufacturing process.

“Loss of knowledge due to movement of experienced workers, negative perception of the manufacturing industry and shortages of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and skilled production workers are driving the talent gap,” said Ben Dollar, principal, Deloitte Consulting.

“The risks associated with this are broad and span the entire value chain — [including]  limitations to innovation, product development, meeting production goals, developing suppliers, meeting customer demand and quality.”

The Talent Gap

Manufacturing companies are rapidly expanding. With too few skilled workers coming in to fill newly created positions, the talent gap is widening. That has been exacerbated by the gradual drain of knowledge and expertise as baby boomers retire and a decline in technical education programs in public high schools.

Ben Dollar, principal, Deloitte Consulting

“Most of the millennials want to work for an Amazon, Google or Yahoo, because they seem like fun places to work and there’s a real sense of community involvement,” said Dan Holden, manager of corporate risk and insurance, Daimler Trucks North America. “In contrast, the manufacturing industry represents the ‘old school’ where your father and grandfather used to work.

“But nothing could be further from the truth: We offer almost limitless opportunities in engineering and IT, working in fields such as electric cars and autonomous driving.”

To dispel this myth, Holden said Daimler’s Educational Outreach Program assists qualified organizations that support public high school educational programs in STEM, CTE (career technical education) and skilled trades’ career development.

It also runs weeklong technology schools in its manufacturing facilities to encourage students to consider manufacturing as a vocation, he said.

“It’s all essentially a way of introducing ourselves to the younger generation and to present them with an alternative and rewarding career choice,” he said. “It also gives us the opportunity to get across the message that just because we make heavy duty equipment doesn’t mean we can’t be a fun and educational place to work.”

Rise of the Cobot

Automation undoubtedly helps manufacturers increase output and improve efficiency by streamlining production lines. But it’s fraught with its own set of risks, including technical failure, a compromised manufacturing process or worse — shutting down entire assembly lines.

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More technologically advanced machines also require more skilled workers to operate and maintain them. Their absence can in turn hinder the development of new manufacturing products and processes.

Christina Villena, vice president of risk solutions, The Hanover Insurance Group, said the main risk of using cobots is bodily injury to their human coworkers. These cobots are robots that share a physical workspace and interact with humans. To overcome the problem of potential injury, Villena said, cobots are placed in safety cages or use force-limited technology to prevent hazardous contact.

“With advancements in technology, such as the Cloud, there are going to be a host of cyber and other risks associated with them.” — David Carlson, U.S. manufacturing and automobile practice leader, Marsh

“Technology must be in place to prevent cobots from exerting excessive force against a human or exposing them to hazardous tools or chemicals,” she said. “Traditional robots operate within a safety cage to prevent dangerous contact. Failure or absence of these guards has led to injuries and even fatalities.”

The increasing use of interconnected devices and the Cloud to control and collect data from industrial control systems can also leave manufacturers exposed to hacking, said David Carlson, Marsh’s U.S. manufacturing and automobile practice leader. Given the relatively new nature of cyber as a risk, however, he said coverage is still a gray area that must be assessed further.

“With advancements in technology, such as the Cloud, there are going to be a host of cyber and other risks associated with them,” he said. “Therefore, companies need to think beyond the traditional risks, such as workers’ compensation and product liability.”

Another threat, said Bill Spiers, vice president, risk control consulting practice leader, Lockton Companies, is any malfunction of the software used to operate cobots. Then there is the machine not being able to cope with the increased workload when production is ramped up, he said.

“If your software goes wrong, it can stop the machine working or indeed the whole manufacturing process,” he said. “[Or] you might have a worker who is paid by how much they can produce in an hour who decides to turn up the dial, causing the machine to go into overdrive and malfunction.”

Potential Solutions

Spiers said risk managers need to produce a heatmap of their potential exposures in the workplace attached to the use of cobots in the manufacturing process, including safety and business interruption. This can also extend to cyber liability, he said.

“You need to understand the risk, if it’s controllable and, indeed, if it’s insurable,” he said. “By carrying out a full risk assessment, you can determine all of the relevant issues and prioritize them accordingly.”

By using collective learning to understand these issues, Joseph Mayo, president, JW Mayo Consulting, said companies can improve their safety and manufacturing processes.

“Companies need to work collaboratively as an industry to understand this new technology and the problems associated with it.” — Joseph Mayo, president, JW Mayo Consulting

“Companies need to work collaboratively as an industry to understand this new technology and the problems associated with it,” Mayo said. “They can also use detective controls to anticipate these issues and react accordingly by ensuring they have the appropriate controls and coverage in place to deal with them.”

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Manufacturing risks today extend beyond traditional coverage, like workers’ compensation, property, equipment breakdown, automobile, general liability and business interruption, to new risks, such as cyber liability.

It’s key to use a specialized broker and carrier with extensive knowledge and experience of the industry’s unique risks.

Stacie Graham, senior vice president and general manager, Liberty Mutual’s national insurance central division, said there are five key steps companies need to take to protect themselves and their employees against these risks. They include teaching them how to use the equipment properly, maintaining the same high quality of product and having a back-up location, as well as having the right contractual insurance policy language in place and plugging any potential coverage gaps.

“Risk managers need to work closely with their broker and carrier to make sure that they have the right contractual controls in place,” she said. “Secondly, they need to carry out on-site visits to make sure that they have the right safety practices and to identify the potential claims that they need to mitigate against.” &

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]