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Expanded Rights of the “Traveling Employee”

In order to qualify for Worker’s Compensation, an injury must have occurred “out of and in the course of . . . employment.” That means that you can only receive money for your injury if the injury was on the job and you were doing job-related things. For example, if you work at a retail store and you are injured while shopping at that retail store, you cannot be covered under Worker’s Compensation because you were not working at the time of the injury, even though you are currently employed there.

There are several exceptions to this generalized rule. One such exception is that of a “traveling employee.” A traveling employee generally has to travel away from the employer’s location in order to perform their job. Examples of this type of employee might include in-home care nurses, construction crews, or employees who work on contract. Generally, if an employee is injured while traveling to the job site, then that employee could receive Worker’s Compensation. A case involving a man from Springfield, Illinois provides an excellent explanation of this exception.

That case involved a pipefitter who was a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 137, based in Springfield, Illinois. Local 137 requires members to bid on jobs at their union hall. When members complete their jobs, Local 137 requires them to seek another position within Local 137’s territory. However, members can look for positions elsewhere if none are available in Local 137’s territory. The member in this case worked in Local 25’s territory for Venture–Newberg, who was hired to work at a nuclear power plant in Cordova, Illinois, which is roughly 225 miles from the member’s residence.

The member took the position with Venture–Newberg and worked in Cordova on a temporary basis. The position required him to work long days and be on call in case of emergencies. As such, the member acquired a nearby hotel where he resided for work purposes. The hotel allowed him to be accessible in emergencies and significantly shorten his drive to work. However, Venture–Newberg did not require their employees to live near the jobsite nor does Venture–Newberg compensate their employees for traveling to and from the jobsite.

While driving to work one morning, the member slipped on a patch of ice on an overpass and sustained serious injuries. He sought relief through Worker’s Compensation. However, in order to receive Worker’s Compensation, he needed to prove the he was not only a traveling employee, but also that he was injured in the course of his work. The Appellate Court of Illinois for the Fourth District easily determined that he was a traveling employee because he had to travel to a jobsite that is not owned by his employer, Venture–Newberg.

However, just because he is a traveling employee does not mean that he automatically receives coverage under Worker’s Compensation. His conduct needs to be reasonable and anticipated by his employer. That is, if an employee was very far away from the jobsite on a shopping trip, injuries on that trip would not be covered under Worker’s Compensation. Generally, reasonableness is a decision made by the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Commission (IWCC) and the court is likely to respect that decision. The IWCC determined that it was both reasonable and could be anticipated that the member would have gotten a hotel near the job site in this situation, particularly because the jobsite was over 200 miles from his home and he needed to be available in case of emergencies. Since obtaining the hotel was reasonable, traveling from the hotel to work could also be anticipated. Therefore, Worker’s Compensation should apply in this case.

It is important to note, however, that if this employee was not a “traveling employee,” then he would not be able to receive Worker’s Compensation if he is injured on his travels to and from the workplace. Worker’s Compensation law is very beneficial if you qualify. However, determining if you qualify may be an extremely complicated and fact intensive process. McCarthy, Callas & Feeney practices extensively in worker’s compensation law and is very familiar with this process. If you have a work-related injury, contact McCarthy, Callas & Feeney at 1-309-788-2800 and we would be happy to discuss your legal options.

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