Pursuant to Florida’s workers’ compensation laws, an employer is generally required to pay compensation or furnish benefits to an employee who is injured on the job. To be considered compensable, an employee’s injury must arise out of and in the course of his or her employment. This requirement prevents the workers’ compensation system from becoming an insurance policy of general applicability. And, it is this requirement that generally operates to prevent the recovery of workers’ compensation benefits by employees injured while commuting to and from work.
Specifically, the relevant Florida statute provides that “an injury suffered while going to or coming from work is not an injury arising out of and in the course of employment….” This provision, known as the “going or coming” rule, reflects the principle that an employee’s commute to and from work is not considered to be in the course and scope of employment.
Regardless of whether one considers such an assumption to be arbitrary, since an employee cannot get to work without actually travelling to work, a line had to be drawn somewhere along the continuum of an employee’s efforts in preparing for and getting to work . And, Florida’s “going and coming” rule operates to draw that line at an employee’s arrival at the workplace. However, there are instances in which an employee injured during his or her commute may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
One such exception to the “going and coming” rule, often referred to as the dual purpose doctrine, provides that “an injury which occurs as the result of a trip, a concurrent cause of which was a business purpose, is within the course and scope of employment, even if the trip also served a personal purpose, such as going to or coming from work.” Such a situation could arise, for example, in a case where an employer asks an employee to run an errand for the employer during the employee’s commute.
The basis for this exception is found in the same statute which codified the “going and coming” rule, and it provides that the “going and coming” rule applies, “unless the employee was engaged in a special errand or mission for the employer.” If an employee is found to have been engaged in a special errand or mission for the employer, then an injury occurring during such efforts by the employee may ultimately be considered within the course and scope of employment, thereby making such injury compensable.
While the dual purpose exception to the “going and coming” rule may appear simplistic in its description, it is anything but simple in its applicability. The extent and importance of the errand or mission will face significant scrutiny before the issue of compensability is resolved. The analysis is fact intensive and generalized rules of broad applicability should be treated with caution.
While the precise applicability of the “going and coming” rule’s dual purpose exception may not necessarily be predicted accurately or consistently without the assistance of professional guidance, it is important that employers understand the possible consequences of sending employees on work-related errands or missions on their way to or from work. By understanding all of the risks involved in a specific course of action, employers are in a better position to not only make informed decisions, but to control those risks which may significantly harm an organization.
To learn more about how Florida’s workers’ compensation laws affect your business, contact us.