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Ill.: Injured Worker Did Not Meet Traveling Employee Exception

By Susan R. Heylman  1/27/2014
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A union pipefitter, who had temporarily relocated for a distant job and then was injured during his commute, failed to show that he was a traveling employee, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled. Consequently, the injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment and he was not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, it held.

Because there was no work available in his local area of Springfield, Ill., the pipefitter took a temporary job at a plant in Cordova, Ill., which was approximately 200 miles from his home. He temporarily relocated to a motel that was located about 30 miles from the plant.  He was seriously injured in an automobile accident on his way from the motel to the plant on his second day of work and sought workers’ compensation benefits.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission concluded that the pipefitter’s injury arose out of his employment because he was a traveling employee at the time of the accident. Although the circuit court set aside the commission’s findings, the appellate court agreed that the pipefitter was a traveling employee injured in the course of his employment and eligible for workers’ compensation. The employer sought review. 

Traveling Employees

The general rule in Illinois is that an injury incurred by an employee in going to or returning from his or her place of employment does not arise out of or in the course of employment and is not compensable. An exception applies, however, when the employee’s duties require him or her to travel away from the employer’s premises differently from other employees. If a traveling employee is injured, a determination must be made as to whether the employee’s activity was compensable.

The pipefitter argued that he was a traveling employee because he was traveling away from his home community for his employer. He contended that his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment because his course of travel was determined by the demands and exigencies of the job, rather than his personal preferences.

The supreme court disagreed. The court noted that the pipefitter was not a permanent employee of the employer and was not working on a long-term exclusive basis. Nothing in his contract required him to travel out of his union’s territory to take the position at the plant.

Rather, the court said, the pipefitter had made a personal decision that the benefits of the pay outweighed the personal cost of traveling. He was hired to work at a specific location and was not directed by the employer to travel away from this work site to another location. He merely traveled from the premises to his residing location, as did all other employees. Moreover, the temporary employer did not reimburse the pipefitter for his travel expenses, nor did it assist him in making his travel arrangements.

Because the pipefitter was no different from any other employee who had to drive to work on a daily basis, he was not a traveling employee and was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

The Venture—Newberg-Perini, Stone & Webster v. Ill. Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, Ill., No. 115728 (Dec. 19, 2013).

Susan R. Heylman, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C., area.
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