For those who deal in workers’ compensation matters, it is generally thought that a person who is injured while traveling to or from work is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Indeed, this is normally the case. A recent Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court case, however, has highlighted that the “coming and going” rule, as it is commonly called, has several nuanced exceptions.
The case is Tiffany Altamirano v. WCAB (Seraphim LLC), (No. 706 C.D. 2014). In this case, the claimant was employed as a home health aide, providing assistance to people in their homes. The employer classified the claimant as a “part time temporary employee.” The claimant worked in many different client homes, did not have a fixed schedule, and could be terminated at any time by the employer or the client. The claimant was not required to report to the employer’s office before or after a shift in a client’s home. Additionally, the claimant was only paid for the hours that she worked at the client’s home and not for her transportation or time getting back and forth from her home to the client. In addition to her caregiver shifts, the claimant also worked on-call assignments for the employer, answering the employer’s telephone from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m. from home.
The claimant was seriously injured in an automobile accident while being driven by her husband from her home to a client’s home to work an 11:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. shift. For approximately three months prior to the accident, the claimant had worked the same 11:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. shift for the same client. During that period, the claimant had also occasionally worked for the employer at other clients’ homes and continued to answer telephones for the employer. At the time of the accident, the claimant was working for the employer on call, handling after hours telephone calls and had been on duty in that capacity since 4:00 p.m. that afternoon. The claimant’s employment with the employer was terminated effective the date of the accident.
The claimant’s claim petition was dismissed by the WCJ who found that the claimant was not acting within the “course and scope of her employment” when she was being driven to her job. The WCAB affirmed the holding of the WCJ. The Commonwealth Court, however, reversed, noting that the “coming and going” rule has several exceptions:
(1) the employment agreement between a claimant and employer includes transportation to and from work;
(2) the claimant has no fixed place of work;
(3) the claimant is injured while on a special assignment for the employer; and
(4) special circumstances indicate that the claimant was furthering the business of the employer.
In this case, the court focused on the “no fixed place of work” exception. The court found several factors to be of particular importance in determining that the claimant had no “fixed place of work,” including that the employer assigned the claimant to third party job sites, that the claimant was working for several of the employer’s other clients simultaneous to her work with the particular client at issue, and that the claimant had been “working” for the employer in a different capacity (answering phones) since 4:00 p.m. on the day of the accident.
What It Means to You
This case highlights that employees who do not have a “fixed place of work” are not subject to the “coming and going” rule. Courts may find that an employee does not have a “fixed place of work” even in cases where the employee has been working in a particular location for a number of months based on additional factors present in the specific case. On a larger scale, it illustrates that even seemingly simple and absolute rules, like the “coming and going” rule, are subject to exceptions. One should be aware of these exceptions when classifying employees and making a determination on the payment of benefits. It is also important to recognize that courts will often apply these exceptions in ostensibly disparate ways in similar cases based on minor nuances in the facts. Therefore, it is important to consult with counsel regarding the chances that such an exception may be applied in a particular case.