Employer-Provided Motel Room Insufficient to Transform Georgia Worker into Traveling Employee

Reiterating that Georgia Superior Courts are required to give appropriate deference to the factual findings of the Appellate Division of the Board of Workers’ Compensation, the Court of Appeals of Georgia, in a split decision, reversed a trial court’s finding that had reinstated an ALJ’s award of benefits to an employee who sustained injuries on a Sunday afternoon while running a personal errand to buy groceries [Avrett Plumbing Co. v. Castillo, 2017 Ga. App. LEXIS 119 (Mar. 10, 2017)]. The ALJ found that the injured worker was a “continuous employee” because, at the time of the injury, he was staying in a motel room provided by his employer. The Appellate Division found, however, that the worker was an 8:00 to 5:00, Monday–Friday employee, that he was staying in the motel room for his own convenience, and then only because the room had been rented by the employer on a 7-day basis. The employer’s gratuitous permission to use the room did not transform the worker into a traveling employee.

Background

The employer provided the worker with a hotel room in Augusta during the work week because he did not have an Augusta residence. Although the worker did not work weekends, the employer gratuitously permitted him to use the Augusta hotel room over the weekend because the seven-day weekly rental arrangement would have left the room otherwise unused. This allowance permitted the worker to remain in Augusta over the weekends, which he chose to do because his financial situation and car troubles made it difficult for him to travel home each weekend at his own expense. The worker tripped and broke his ankle while on an errand to purchase groceries. There was no dispute that the worker was off-work and not “on call” at the time of the injury.

“Continuous Employment Doctrine”

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that under Georgia’s doctrine of continuous employment—more commonly known nationally as “the traveling employee” doctrine—broader workers’ compensation coverage was afforded to an employee who was required by his employment to lodge and work within an area geographically limited by the necessity of being available for work on the employer’s job site. Under the doctrine, the employee is, in effect, in continuous employment, day and night, for the purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act, and activities performed in a reasonable and prudent manner for the health and comfort of the employee, including recreational activities, arise out of and are in the course of the employment.

The Appellate Division found, however, that the worker remained over the weekend in Augusta, where the work was being performed, not because he was required to do so, but due to personal transportation and financial constraints. He was not on call and was not required to stay close by during the weekend break.

Deference to Appellate Division’s Findings

The Court of Appeal noted that the Superior Court recognized the necessary deference to be given to the factual findings of the Appellate Division, but nonetheless made a contradictory finding when it determined that the worker was present in Augusta on the day he was injured to prepare for work on Monday. The Court said that some evidence supported the Appellate Division’s decision. The Superior Court lacked authority to substitute its own factual findings for those of the Appellate Division.

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