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 the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]