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An in-home caretaker who was struck by a car and injured while riding her bicycle from one home where she worked to another where she was scheduled to work was entitled to workers' compensation benefits, the California Court of Appeal ruled.
Even though the caretaker was not paid for her travel expenses, such as the cost of her bike, or for the time she spent traveling between jobs, the transit was for the employer's benefit and so became part of the employee's job, the court said.
Yu Qin Zhu worked as a caretaker for the California State Department of Social Services from 2003 through 2015. The department paid her every two weeks with one paycheck for all the work she performed. She was not paid for transportation to, from or between locations.
On the morning of Dec. 16, 2015, Zhu cared for a couple living in Monterey Park. She was scheduled to care for a woman in Alhambra in the afternoon. While riding her bike from Monterey Park to Alhambra, Zhu was involved in a bicycle-automobile collision.
A workers' compensation judge found Zhu's injury compensable because her "transportation between the clients' homes was a mandatory part of the employment." But a majority of the California Workers' Compensation Appeals Board reversed, finding the injury not compensable because "travel by bicycle was for Zhu's own convenience and benefit" and so should not be considered a part of her job. Zhu appealed this decision.
Did Employee's Travel Benefit Employer?
The appellate court first noted that an employee who is injured while commuting to or from work is generally not entitled to collect workers' compensation under the "coming and going" rule.
[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: If an employee slips on ice in the parking lot, is it covered by workers' compensation?]
But because Zhu was not traveling between her home and her workplace at the time of the accident, the rule did not apply in this case, the court explained. Instead, the court said, the issue was whether the transit was part of the employment or the employment relationship and whether the employee's travel provided the employer with some benefit.
The court noted that the department knew Zhu was providing care in more than one home each day and was traveling from one home to another—which increased the department's ability to service people in need. Further, since the department did not furnish Zhu with transport, it could only serve multiple homes each day by requiring Zhu to provide her own transportation.
Therefore, the court concluded, Zhu's transit bestowed a direct benefit on the department and so should be considered a part of her employment relationship. The court reversed the appellate board's decision, ruling that Zhu could collect workers' compensation benefits.
Zhu v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, Calif. Ct. App., No. B278696 (June 20, 2017).
Professional Pointer: Similarly, if a worker leaves a jobsite on a personal errand and is injured, he or she generally will not be entitled to workers' compensation. However, if the employee is injured while running an errand requested by the employer, this may be seen as part of the worker's job, and the worker may collect compensation.
Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is a freelance writer in Annapolis, Md.
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