Thursday, August 28, 2008

New case law on "travelling employees"

The case of Jamison v. W.C.A.B. (Gallagher Home Health Services) was issued by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on August 19, 2008. This decision addressed the issue of “a traveling employee.”

In this case, the claimant was a home health nurse who traveled around for Gallagher Home Health Services to various in-home clients that needed home health care. The employer paid the claimant a fixed wage for the time that she spent with the patients but was also reimbursed the claimant for mileage expenses. The employer did not reimburse the claimant for mileage incurred driving to the first patient’s home or for mileage incurred returning to her own home from the last patient’s home. Also, it was known and allowed by the employer for claimant to do personal errands during the day and during her travels.

Also, the claimant worked for two other employers on a part time basis. On any given day, the claimant could be working for all three of her employers.

The claimant was involved in an automobile accident where she suffered an aggravation of a preexisting complex regional pain syndrome in her left arm and chest. This accident occurred while traveling from her home to her first client’s home.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge agreed with the employer and denied the Claim Petition. The denial was based on the holding that the claimant was not a traveling employee because on any given day she could be working for any one of, or all three of, her employers. Because the Judge found that claimant was not a traveling employee, her commute from her home to her first job site, was not in the course of employment.

A standard rule in Pennsylvania workers’ compensation is that, if you are injured while traveling from home to work and you are a stationary employee (meaning you have one place where you work) you cannot be compensated for any injuries while commuting to and from work. However, if you are a “traveling employee” you may be compensated for injuries that occur while you are traveling, even if it is on your daily commute to and from work.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court indicated that, when considering whether an individual is a traveling employee, each case is determined on a case by case basis. The Court found that because claimant did not work on the employer’s premises, but treated patients in their homes, the claimant had to travel to the various homes and that travel was an essential element of the claimants work for the employer. Further, but for the multiple employer issue, there would be little reason to doubt that claimant was a traveling employee with respect to her job with Gallagher.

The Court dealt with an issue of first impression. No Court had addressed the issue of whether a claimant must work for a single employer in order to be considered a traveling employee. In this case, the court ruled in favor of the claimant. The Court held that there was no evidence that supported the Workers’ Compensation Judge’s finding that the claimant had abandoned her employment with Gallagher and was doing work for one of her other employers at the time of the motor vehicle accident.

No comments: