Worker’s Compensation & Travel: Business Trips vs. Commutes
Let’s say a Wisconsin resident is injured while traveling, on the road and away from their normal workplace. Can this worker file for Wisconsin worker’s compensation benefits if they were on a business trip when the injury occurred? The answer is often “yes” for Wisconsin workers.
Overview of Work vs. Non-Work Injuries
For an injured employee to claim Wisconsin worker’s compensation benefits, they must be “performing service growing out of and incidental to his or her employment” at the time of the injury. In other words, the injury must be “work-related.” That includes sudden, traumatic, injuries like a shoulder strain, as well as longer term injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. On the other hand, if an employee is injured outside of the workplace doing something unrelated to work, that’s not compensable. For example, if I get into a car accident while driving from my home to the grocery store to buy food for the week, that’s not work-related.
The question, then, is whether an employee whose employer has sent them away from their normal workplace – on a business trip, for example – is doing work-related activity. If I slip and fall while buying food on a business trip out of state, could the injury be compensable?
Routine Self-Care Activities Hold Special Status During Business Trips
Under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law, “traveling employees” – a worker whose employer requires them to travel for work – must be compensated for any work-related injuries suffered while on the road.
Wisconsin law states that a traveling employee “shall be deemed to be performing service growing out of and incidental to the employee’s employment at all times while on a trip, except when engaged in a deviation for a private or personal purpose.” Crucially, “[a]cts reasonably necessary for living or incidental thereto shall not be regarded as such a deviation.”
What this means, is that, under worker’s compensation law, when you travel for work, you are assumed to be working. You’re working when you buy food to eat while traveling. You’re working when you’re on the road or in the air, on your way to your destination. You’re even working while bathing at the hotel that you’re staying at during the work trip. All of these things are either “service growing out of and incidental to” employment, or “[a]cts reasonably necessary for living or incidental” to living.
Business Trips vs. Regular Work Commutes
This doesn’t mean that any traveling that a worker has to do for their job will count as work-related. For the average person who goes to work at the same place every day, an injury that happens during the commute – and off the employer’s property – will probably not be work-related.
Unfortunately, some employees who have jobs that require them to travel to various job sites are treated more like commuters. For example, courts found that a commercial painter who was on his way to a job site was more like a commuter, traveling to his workplace for the day. Similarly, a security guard who was required to travel around the state was “commuting.” Even though these individuals were driving to new and varying locations for their jobs, courts held this travel was a “commute” before the actual start of the workday
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