Exceptions to the Going and Coming Rule in Massachusetts
Massachusetts workers’ compensation judges follow a “going and coming rule” that states employees who are injured on their way to work or just after leaving work are not eligible for workers’ compensation.
Those cases can be difficult for injured employees to understand—especially employees who are injured in the parking lot or right in front of work. After all, in some sense, an employee’s actions going and coming from work do benefit the employer.
However, there are significant exceptions to the general going and coming rule. For example, an employee’s injuries while going to and from work are compensable if the employee’s authorized activity at the time of his injury was to the benefit of the employer.
In a recent case, an employee appealed from the reviewing board’s decision in which the reviewing board affirmed the administrative judge’s determination that the employee was not entitled to workers’ compensation. The case arose during the employee’s salaried employment at Apex Express.
The employer expected the employee to be on call 24/7. The employee commuted to work in a pickup that his employer provided. The employer wanted the vehicle to be used so that it would be available for snow plowing in the winter. The employer told the employee he could avoid wear and tear on his own vehicle by using their vehicle to get to work.
The employee was driving to work in the company truck and swerved to avoid a deer. He hit a guardrail on the side of the road and was injured. He filed a workers’ compensation claim.
The employee appealed this decision to the reviewing board and when benefits were again denied, appealed to the Court of Appeals. The appellate court explained it could overturn the reviewing board’s decision on the basis of a legal error. The administrative judge had claimed that both employer and employee had received benefits from his use of the company truck for the commute and that therefore, the employee’s use of the company vehicle was immaterial.
The appellate court reasoned that whenever there is some benefit to an employer beyond simply going to work or leaving work, the employee is actually considered to be furthering the employer’s interests. If the employee’s acts were for purely personal reasons, then workers’ compensation would not apply. Each case of this type must be determined on the basis of the unique facts in that case.
The test would be whether the employee was on call or involved in authorized activities that helped the employer even if he was not technically on the clock. The appellate court reasoned that the administrative judge had departed from these exceptions to the going and coming rule.
The administrative judge had found the employee was permitted to drive the employer’s truck to work and that this benefitted the employer. In fact, the employer had asked him to drive the truck in order to keep it in good order for snow plowing in the winter. Even though he recognized the benefits to the employer, he had not properly applied the rule.
Accordingly, the appellate court found the injuries to be compensable. The reviewing board’s decision was vacated and the appellate court awarded the employee attorney’s fees.
Workers’ compensation laws can be difficult to understand. If you are injured on the job, retaining an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney may be your smartest decision. We can fight for the benefits you and your family need. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.