New York workers’ compensation: The going-and-coming rule

Injuries that occur during trips off work premises require special analysis.

New York workers' compensation benefits are normally the exclusive remedy for work-related injury and illness that arise out of and in the course of employment, with some narrow exception. Coverage is usually clear when an injury occurs in an accident on employer premises during work hours, for example, but there are many gray areas where coverage is not immediately certain. One of those is when an injury happens during a trip away from the workplace.

Going from and coming to work

Normally, injuries incurred during regular commutes to and from work are not covered by workers' compensation as the time spent and act of commuting is not part of the scope and course of employment. This is called the going-and-coming rule. However, there are established exceptions to the rule, which often require detailed analysis of the incident.

Special errands

In one Court of Appeals decision, the court found that an employee was eligible for benefits because even though he was on his way home when he was hurt, he had done a "special errand" for his employer earlier in the trip.

In Neacosia v. New York Power Authority, a nuclear power plant security guard stopped on the way home to drop off his uniforms at a dry cleaner that had an agreement with the employer to provide and clean company uniforms with payment being made directly by the employer. After leaving the dry cleaner, the worker was severely injured in a car accident.

The issue of whether these injuries were within the scope of employment as an exception to the going-and-coming rule were contested all the way to the highest court in the state, which looked at whether the incident fell within the "special errand" exception to the rule that could allow a claim like this one if the trip served some purpose of the employer. Specifically, the court considered whether the employer had to expressly direct the special errand.

The Court of Appeals said no to this question because of the "unpredictable and varied nature of work-related incidents" and the requirement that workers' compensation laws be liberally interpreted as remedial in nature. The opinion considered previous cases in which the question was whether the activity was within the scope of work or "purely personal," asking if the act was both reasonable and "sufficiently work related under the circumstances."

Two questions

The court said that each special-errand case will require careful analysis under a two-part test. First, did the employer encourage or direct the errand? Second, did the employer benefit from the errand in any way?

The court said that a special errand existed because the employer required a clean uniform at work and provided free cleaning at designated cleaners, benefitting the employer by having professional-looking guards and making accounting easier. It could pay for uniform cleaning in lump sums to cleaners, rather than reimburse each employee for each cleaning bill.

Finally, the court said that the scope of employment included the trip home after the special errand because the usual commute home had been changed by doing the errand, "altering the risks to which the employee is usually exposed during normal travel."

The going-and-coming rule has other exceptions and is a complex area of New York workers' compensation law. An attorney with extensive workers' compensation experience is ideally suited to advise and represent a worker faced with such an issue.

In Schenectady, the lawyers at Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., represent workers' comp claimants in special errand cases and in a wide variety of other related matters.