Not on My Turf! Veering off the Course of Employment While Travelling to and From Work
When analyzing whether an accident is compensable under Illinois law, the Commission will examine whether the injury occurred in “the course of” Petitioner’s employment. Generally, the Commission has deemed accidents to have occurred in the course of employment if the injury is sustained on an employer’s premises, at a place where Petitioner might reasonably have been performing her duties, and while Petitioner is at work.
As long as the accident arises out of the employment, it seems clear enough that an injury sustained at work while working would be considered “in the course of” the employment. What happens, though, when an employee is injured going to or coming from work? For non-traveling employees, the general rule is that injuries sustained while going to or from work are not compensable. In cases involving a traveling employee, a Petitioner is considered to be in the course of her employment from the time she leaves home until the time she returns.
If an injury occurs during the employee’s commute, it is important to consider whether the worker is a travelling employee. If not, it is important to consider whether the employer owned, maintained, or controlled the premises on which the injury occurred.
In Hoots v. (Dollar General), IWCC, 2022 IL App (4th) 220441WC-U), Petitioner was a sales associate trainee who was hired to work at a store that had not yet opened. On November 19, 2017, she was assigned to train at another location next to a strip mall. When she arrived at work, there was a parking lot located adjacent to the strip mall and additional parking adjacent to the store. Petitioner parked in the lot adjacent to the store, exited her vehicle and slipped on black ice. She fell, injuring her left foot and ankle.
Petitioner claimed that her injuries occurred in the course of her employment. In upholding the Commission’s denial of benefits, the Appellate Court rejected Petitioner’s argument that she was a traveling employee just because she commuted to work. As the Court pointed out, all new employees traveled to the same location for training, and there was no evidence that Petitioner was reimbursed for travel expenses. Furthermore, there was no evidence that travel was an essential element of her job.
The Court then considered whether the employer owned, maintained, or controlled the premises where the accident occurred. The record showed that the employer did not provide, own, control, or contribute to the maintenance of the parking lot where Petitioner fell in any way. Also, the parking lot was not a route Petitioner was required to traverse, and Petitioner was not instructed by the employer to park in the lot. Accordingly, benefits were denied.
Hoots is instructive on potential defenses when the employee sustains injury while going to or coming from work. If Petitioner is not a traveling employee and the employer does not own, maintain, control, or direct Petitioner to traverse the area in which the injury occurred, there is potential to defeat the claim.
If you are an employer questioning compensability in any claim or wondering whether your employee veered the course of employment, please feel free to reach out to our attorneys here.