NJ Supreme Court Defines the Authorized Vehicle
The NJ Supreme Court crafted a narrow exception for the compensability of off-premises occupational injuries while operating a company-authorized vehicle. The Court’s decision may have a far-reaching impact on what type of remote work injuries may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
The case before the Court involved a worker seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident and required surgery for a bilateral subdural hematoma. The employee was driving an identified company vehicle from home to pick up supplies stored on the employer’s premises.
The worker applied pesticides, and the employer directed its employees to pick up supplies daily from a company location before going out to the worksites. The employer made daily assignments to the employee through a company-provided iPad.
THE AUTHORIZED VEHICLE RULE
The NJ Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, held that if an employee is injured when operating an authorized vehicle, even though it is off the employer’s premises, the accident is compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act [WCA]. "The employer must authorize the vehicle for operation by the employee, and the employee’s operation of that identified vehicle is for business expressly authorized by the employer.”
The employer may imply the authorization and, therefore, not directly be expressed by the employer. The Court reasoned that the employer directed the employee to pick up the necessary supplies for replenishment at the office.
In crafting the exception, the Court noted that mere commenting to and from the employer’s place of business is not within the course of employment.
THE FUTURE OF WORK - REMOTE WORK
As remote work opportunities expand, the NJ Supreme Court has redefined the nature of work and coverage afforded under the WCA. Employees who must pick up supplies and products at the employer’s physical premises at the direction of the employer will be entitled to workers/ compensation benefits. More employees are working from home than ever before. Injuries will increase as they commute to and from the employer's physical premises.
Remote work requires employees to do their jobs from a location that is not the traditional employer’s central office. Employees are now performing their jobs from their homes, at a co-working or shared office space, “We Work Remotely” sites, or from a vehicle, i.e., rideshare workers, Uber, and Lyft.
As work and the future of work take on a new dimension, other remote opportunities will expand, i.e., telework. The Court has expanded the definition of “in the course of employment” and the liberal construction of the Workers’ Compensation Act that is consistent with what the Legislature intended.
Keim v Above All Termite & Pest Control, 2023 WL 8042920, (NJ 2023) Decided November 21, 2023.
Recommended Citation: Jon L. Gelman, NJ Supreme Court to Review Off-Premises Injuries and Remote Work, www.gelmans.com (November 24, 2023), https://www.gelmans.com/ReadingRoom/tabid/65/ArtMID/1482/ArticleID/1100/preview/true/Default.aspx
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne, NJ, is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (Thomson-Reuters). For over five decades, the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman 1.973.696.7900 email@example.com have represented injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.
© 2023 Jon L Gelman. All rights reserved.
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