Oregon Workers Comp. Board Rules Against Traveling Employee

Posted on Jul 30, 2015

In this Oregon Workers' Compensation Board decision, the Board found that a ranch hand that normally traveled from field to field for his employer was not in the course and scope of his employment, even though he was a "traveling employee."

In general, if somebody is injured on the job, they must show that the on-the-job injury occurred in the course and scope of their employment, and that the injury arose out of employment activities. These are two different issues, but are considered together in determining whether an injury should be covered, or not.

There are many exceptions to the general rule. One is known as the "traveling employee" doctrine. Under this rule, somebody who travels as part of their business will be covered for on-the-job injuries for those kinds of activities that are not normally considered to be "on the job." For example, if a travelling salesman is injured while returning from dinner to her hotel after a day of sales calls on the road, that is probably going to fall within this special rule.

In this case, the injured worker was a ranch hand. Part of his job involved traveling from one employer owned field to another in an employer provided truck. Workplace rules required the ranch hand to get permission to use the truck for personal errands, and prohibited on-the-job consumption of alcohol.

On the date of the injury, the employee had finished his work for the day, and drove to another farm that was in no way connected to the employer to help a friend wiht a project. The injured worker consumed alcohol while at his friend's house, and then suffered injuries in a motor vehicle collision.  At the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge found that even though the injured worker was not actually working for his employer at the time of the injury, he was a traveling employee, and as such, was covered under the workers' compensation claim. However, the Board disagreed.

Citing Oregon Court of Appeals decisions, the Board determined that the worker had made a "distinct departure" from his normal job duties when he ran the personal errand. In making this decision, the Board emphasized that an activity distinctly departed from travel -related duties becuase it was well beyond what the employer may reasonably approve of or contemplate with a travelling employee.

When an insurance company denies a workers' compensation claim because the injured worker was not in the course and scope of his employment, whether to appeal the denial depends on the specific facts of each case. If you have a denied claim, and are not sure whether to appeal the denial, call us at 503-325-8600. We can review the facts of your case, and help you determine your best options.