Illinois: Divided High Court Finds Injured Employee was Not a “Traveling Employee”

Construing the “traveling employee” rule, the Supreme Court of Illinois, in a divided decision, yesterday held that a worker who took a position with an employer located some 200 miles from his home, who had temporarily relocated at a nearby motel for the job, and was seriously injured in an automobile work on his way to work, was not a traveling employee entitled to workers’ compensation benefits [Venture-Newberg-Perini v. Illinois Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 2013 IL 115728, 2013 Ill. LEXIS 1625 (Dec. 19, 2013)]. The majority accordingly reversed a decision rendered by a lower appellate court that had ruled to the contrary.  

The majority noted the general rule related to going and coming injuries, that an injury incurred by an employee in going to or returning from the place of employment does not arise out of or in the course of the employment and, hence, is not compensable. This is because the employee’s trip to and from work is generally the product of his own decision as to where he or she wants to live, a matter in which the employer ordinarily has no interest. The majority noted the exception related to a “traveling employee” that courts generally regard employees whose duties require them to travel away from their employer’s premises differently from other employees when considering whether an injury arose out of and in the course of employment.

The majority of the high court stressed that the injured worker was not a permanent employee of the employer. Nor was he working for the employer on a long-term exclusive basis. He had worked only four other short-term employer projects over the two years preceding the accident. Furthermore, nothing in his contract required him to travel out of his union’s territory to take the position. As the injured worker testified, he made the personal decision that the benefits of the pay outweighed the personal cost of traveling. The majority indicated that the worker traveled from the work premises to his residing location–the motel–as did all other employees. The employer did not reimburse him for his travel expenses, nor did it assist him in making his travel arrangements. The majority indicated that due to these facts, the Commission’s conclusion (consistent with that of the lower appellate court) that the worker was a traveling employee was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

The majority indicated the lower appellate court’s decision would have established an inappropriate policy: that while an employee who chose to relocate closer to a temporary job site could receive benefits if injured on the way to work, an employee who permanently resided close to the job site was not so entitled.

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