NJ Supreme Court to Review Off-Premises Injuries and Remote Work
The NJ Supreme Court will be reviewing the compensability off-premises occupational injuries. 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 involves a worker seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident and required surgery for a bilateral subdural hematoma. The employee was driving a 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.
SPECIAL MISSION DOCTRINE
The NJ Appellate Division, in an unpublished decision, granted benefits to the injured worker by reversing the reversed judge of compensation’s dismissal of the claim. The three judges in the appellate court reasoned that the employee was injured during employment. It held that the employee was on a “special mission” that was “an indispensable part of the performance of the employee’s duties.”
THE PREMISES RULE
The New Jersey Courts have adopted the “premises rule,” a legal principle that generally allows awarding of workers' compensation benefits when a worker is on the job site. The rule is based on the idea that employees are not engaged in work-related activities while commuting to and from work.
There are a few exceptions to the coming and going rule. One exception is “ The Special Mission Doctrine.” Under this doctrine, an employee may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits if they are injured while traveling to or from work for a specific purpose related to their job. For an in-depth analysis, see “The going and coming rule—Off employer's premises,” Gelman, Jon L, Workers’ Compensation Law, 38 NJPRAC 16.2 (Thomson-Reuters 2023.
EMPLOYER DIRECTED CONDUCT
Furthermore, the employee was operating a business vehicle authorized by the employer. Additionally, the employee undertook an activity directed by the employer and therefore brought it into the scope of the employment.
AUTHORIZED BUSINESS VEHICLE
Another exception to the off-premises rule is the employer-provided motor vehicle exception. Under this exception, an employee may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits if injured while driving a motor vehicle owned or leased by their employer. This exception applies even if the employee is not traveling to or from work during the accident.
THE FUTURE OF WORK - REMOTE WORK
As remote work opportunities expand, the NJ Supreme Court may use this case to redefine the nature of work and coverage afforded under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Employees must pick up supplies and products such as computer hardware or physically obtain upgraded software at the employer’s physical premises. 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 takes on a new dimension, other remote opportunities will expand, i.e., telework, the Court will have the opportunity to review the broad definition of “in the course of employment” and the liberal construction of the workers’ compensation act that the Legislature intended.
Read the decision below, Keim v Above All Termite & Pest Control, 2022 WL 6833581, (NJ App Div 2022), Not Approved for Publication [This opinion shall not "constitute precedent or be binding upon any court." Although it is posted on the internet, this opinion is binding only on the parties, and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3.] Certification granted by the NJ Supreme Court on March 10, 2023, A-30-22, 2023 WL 2499110.
Recommended Citation: Jon L. Gelman, NJ Supreme Court to Review Off-Premises Injuries and Remote Work, www.gelmans.com (April 12, 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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