What if the only “connection” requirement to compensate an injury was that it had to “arise out of” the employment?  One can craft an argument that would make most injuries somehow compensable under that standard.  If I got in a wreck on the commute to work, that commute arises out of the employment—I wouldn’t be on that trip but for my obligation to appear at work.  What if I cut myself shaving that morning?  I was shaving in order to be presentable for work.  And on, and on.

The most important benchmark for whether an injury gets compensation is whether it “occurred in the course of employment.”  This is a standard of all workers’ compensation laws.  We have seen that even when you are “on the clock” an injury you suffer might still not receive compensation due to the rare “arising out of” employment standard previously discussed.  But other than those rare cases, an injury you suffer in the course of employment is going to be compensated once you demonstrate that.  In the decades following the passage of the workers’ compensation law, this was an easier standard to apply.  The American workplace was very well-defined.  Most employed persons left home, commuted to a specific place (like an office or factory), performed their work duties, and then left that place and returned home.  Following WWII, things have become ever more complicated regarding the workplace, and so has this rule.

An injury occurring on the employer’s premises during the scheduled hours of work occurs in the course of employment.  Below, we examine the requirement of showing that the injury occurred in the course of employment in our modern, complicated world.

 

Going and Coming, part I 

One of the first rules that courts imposed in compensation cases 100 years ago, was that an injury does not occur in the course of employment if it happens when the worker is going to work or coming home from work.  This is referred to (not surprisingly) as the “going and coming” rule.  While your commute is certainly an activity that arises out of your employment (it is “work-related”), you are not covered by the workers’ compensation law while commuting. 

But what if it is snowing out and slick roads cause you to crash en route to work?  That incident would still be subject to the going-and-coming rule, and compensation would not be ordered. 

Like a lot of rules in courts, however, the going-and-coming rule has many exceptions.  For example, even once you get in your car to leave the employer’s parking lot, you are likely still covered for injury until you leave the parking lot of the employer’s premises.  Compensation has also been awarded for injury close by the employer’s premises.  For instance, the Commissioner once awarded compensation to a worker struck and killed while crossing the street to enter a meat plant in Davenport, because the worker had parked across the street in a parking lot as directed by the employer.  Even though the worker had not clocked in and was not injured on the employer’s premises (but on a public street), compensation was awarded as “occurring in the course of employment” because the employment put the worker in a special “zone of danger.”  This award was based on a previous supreme court case, Frost v. S.S. Kresge, 299 N.W.2d 646 (Iowa 1980), where a worker was compensated for a slip and fall on a public sidewalk when just about to walk into the store where they worked.  More applications of the “going and coming rule” follow in the next post. 

 

This information does not develop an attorney-client relationship and is not legal advice.  You should consult with an attorney for advice on any worker’s compensation matter.

Author: Peter M. Sand

Ashley Allen