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Protection under the Workers’ Compensation Act for Traveling Employees

Russ Haugen

undefinedI drove south on I-57 last week to appear before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission on behalf of several injured workers from central Illinois. I encountered treacherous road conditions as the powerful winds blew across empty cornfields causing unexpected snow drifts across the Interstate. Thankfully, I made it safely to my destination. Unfortunately, many people who were facing the same dangerous road conditions that day did not. I counted 36 vehicles scattered along the ditches of an approximate 60-mile stretch of highway. The vehicles included semi-trucks, pickup trucks, cars, and even one passenger bus.

As I continued to drive, I came to the realization that a majority of my fellow drivers on the road that day were likely on the roads for the same reason I was, their jobs. Whether it was the truck driver trying to deliver his packages in a timely manner or the salesperson needing to make the appointment to finalize a deal; we held the same classification under Illinois workers’ compensation law, the Traveling Employee.

Generally, if you are injured while going to work or coming home from work, it will not be considered a work-related injury. However, if you hold the classification of a Traveling Employee, you are afforded extra protection in the eyes of the law. The simple definition of the traveling employee is an individual whose job requires them to travel away from home or the employer’s premises in furtherance of their employment. As a traveling employee, if you can show that your actions were reasonable and foreseeable at the time of the accident, your injuries will be deemed “work related.”

For example, the Illinois courts determined that a traveling employee’s death arose out of his employment when he was involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident. The accident occurred on a Saturday and golf clubs were found in his vehicle. The cause of this one vehicle accident was never determined. In finding that his conduct was reasonable and foreseeable, the courts relied upon the fact that the accident occurred in close proximity to his hotel and since he was on an extended business trip he would likely partake in recreational activities. However, the Illinois courts denied a claim for benefits in another case when a traveling employee was out on a scenic drive in the mountains when he fell asleep at the wheel and sustained an accident at 1:30 a.m. It was determined that his conduct at the time of the accident was not reasonable and foreseeable. In denying benefits, the courts relied upon the fact that he wasn’t anywhere near his hotel or the plant at the time the accident occurred.

The terms “reasonable and foreseeable” are not defined in the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. It is a term that the courts apply to the specific facts of each case. Therefore, actions that an employee believes to be reasonable and foreseeable may not be viewed the same way by the employer or the insurance carrier. If this is the case, your claim for benefits may be denied and you will need to contact a workers’ compensation attorney.

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