The Supreme Court recently issued a ruling favorable to employers whose employees travel for work.
The employee, a visiting nurse, provides in-home health care to patients. On weekdays, her travel time, minus her normal commute time to and from the company’s the home office, was included in her on-the-clock hours. On weekends, all travel time was counted as hours worked, without any adjustment for the normal commute time from the office. On a weekend morning, she planned to drop her family off at a mall on the way to her first patient, but she was rear-ended before reaching the mall and sustained injuries. She filed a workers’ compensation claim, alleging the injury occurred in the course of her employment.
The employer argued that the claim was not allowable or compensable, because the employee detoured from her work duties by first heading to the mall. The claimant argued that, even though she planned to first stop at the mall, she had the dual intent to travel to her patient’s home and thus she would not have been at the accident site had she not been headed to that patient’s home. The dual-intent doctrine provides that if an employee’s work creates the need for travel, the employee is acting in the course of employment while traveling, even if he or she does a personal errand. However, if the personal errand would have taken place regardless of the work-related reason for travel, then the travel is personal and is not in the course of employment. The Supreme Court disagreed and held that the “dual intent” doctrine is not applicable to workers’ compensation claims and that an injury must occur in the course of and arising from only the individual’s job duties to be compensable.
Employers may still rely on of the “frolic and detour” doctrine, which involves an employee traveling for work but who makes stops for personal errands, such as to go through a drive-through or to pick up dry cleaning, and becoming involved in an accident or is otherwise injured. Because that employee deviated from his or her employment responsibilities to attend to the personal errand, any injury sustained during the frolic or detour is not compensable. However, when the personal errand is over and the employee returns to his or her original route, the employee is again within the scope of employment, an injury that occurs is compensable.
When conducting incident investigations, employers should be attentive to when and where an injury occurred, to determine if it occurred in the course of and arose out of employment. This information can be essential to defending costly workers’ compensation claims.