• Traveling Employee Doctrine Does Not Encompass Travel “To and From” Normal Workplace
  • October 13, 2016 | Author: Brad Elward
  • Law Firm: Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen Professional Corporation - Peoria Office
  • In Allenbaugh v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Comm'n, 2016 IL App (3d) 150284WC, the appellate court affirmed the Commission’s decision finding the claimant, a police officer en route to the police station before heading to a training session, was “merely commuting” at the time of his accident and was not a traveling employee. In Allenbaugh, the claimant was a police officer employed by the City of Peoria as a patrol officer; he typically worked second shift, reporting at 2:45 p.m. His job required him to be driving for at least 65 percent and up to 75 percent of a shift.

    On March 5, 2013, the claimant was ordered to report at 8:00 a.m. for mandatory training to take place at police headquarters and at the Expo Gardens Opera House. While the claimant was en route to police headquarters, it was snowing, and there was ice and slush on the road. An oncoming vehicle crossed the center line and struck the left front side of claimant's truck, forcing him into a ditch, where he struck several trees and sustained neck and back injuries.

    The arbitrator found the claim compensable and awarded benefits. According to the arbitrator, the claimant, a patrol officer who typically worked second shift, was ordered to perform mandatory training outside his usual duty hours. He was directed to bring various items of police gear to the training session. Moreover, when he left his house to attend training at 7:45 a.m. on March 5, 2013, the roads were hazardous. According to the testimony, police officers were on duty 24 hours per day. Based on these facts (and without explaining the legal basis for his ruling), the arbitrator found that claimant sustained an accident “arising out of” and “in the course of” his employment.

    The Commission reversed, noting that at the time of the accident, the claimant was not responding to unlawful conduct and was not responding to an emergency. The claimant was not on duty at all times and had no general obligation to intervene if he observed unlawful behavior while off duty. And while the respondent did employ people on an on-call basis, the claimant was not assigned to such duty.

    According to the Commission, the mere fact that the training claimant was required to attend occurred outside his usual duty hours was not sufficient to avoid the general rule that an “employee’s trip to and from work is the product of his own decision as to where he wants to live, a matter in which his employer ordinarily has no interest.” Allenbaugh, 2016 IL App (3d) 150284WC, ¶ 6. It noted claimant was not required to drive any particular route and that “he was not performing any activities of employment at the time of the accident.” Id. It agreed that, in other cases, police officers had been compensated while commuting where their employer retained control over them; this was not the case here. The Commission stated that the traveling-employee doctrine did not apply where claimant was simply driving his personal vehicle to his normal workplace. The dissenting commissioner believed that the traveling-employee doctrine applied because claimant was not commuting to his normal shift and the roads were hazardous.

    The circuit court of Peoria County confirmed.

    On appeal, the appellate court affirmed. First, the court rejected the argument that the employer police department had retained or exerted any control over the claimant at the time of his accident. In support of this argument, the claimant relied heavily on City of Springfield v. Industrial Comm’n, 244 Ill. App. 3d 408 (4th Dist. 1993), where a police officer was injured in an automobile accident while returning to the police station from lunch. The officer had been assigned an unmarked police car for 24 hours per day and was required to monitor the radio while using the car at all times and to respond to any calls he received, even if he was off duty. He drove the car home to eat lunch on most days, and on the day of the accident, he was returning to work from lunch when a motorist ran a stop sign and collided with him. At the time of the accident, he was not responding to a call or emergency situation.

    Arguing for application of City of Springfield, the claimant contended that the respondent maintained similar control over him because he was “ordered to report to the police station in a winter storm" and that the "roads were dangerous.” Allenbaugh, 2016 IL App (3d) 150284WC, ¶ 11. According to the appellate court, while the officer in City of Springfield presumably was required to return to work after lunch just as claimant was ordered-and hence required-to attend training, the City of Springfield court made no mention of the officer's obligation to return to the stationhouse after lunch in announcing its holding. The appellate court said that “all employees are required to go to work. Thus, we fail to see how the fact that claimant was going someplace he was required to go for work distinguishes his situation from normal commuting.” Id.

    Second, the court rejected the argument that the claimant was a traveling employee at the time of his accident. The claimant had argued that he was required to drive for much of his usual shift. The court responded, “However, that is not what claimant was doing at the time he was injured, and he cites no authority that holds that where an employee regularly drives as part of his duties, his or her commute is brought within the scope of the employment.” Id. ¶ 16. The court noted that its own research “has uncovered no support for this proposition as well.” Id.

    The court then dismissed the claimant’s argument that he was required to travel to the police station and then to the Expo Gardens on the day he was injured. “While true, it is undisputed that at the time he was injured, he was driving from his home to the police station.” Id.

    Finally, the court rejected the claimant’s assertion that his employer required him to drive in hazardous conditions. “We fail to see how this distinguishes claimant's situation from that of any other commuter in the northern half of this country.” Id.

    In closing, the appellate court said it agreed with the Commission’s conclusion of the case - “We do not believe that the traveling employee doctrine should be extended to include any claimant who is involved in an accident on the way to their normal workplace, driving their personal vehicle without any additional compensation and not performing any duties incidental to their employment when the only basis for finding so is a department order that the claimant's regular work shift was different for that particular day.” Id. ¶ 17.