January 30, 2020

Where Trouble Brews

You host an off-premises holiday party for your employees. The party includes food and beverages – the adult kind.  After knocking back a few drinks, your employee drives himself home. On the way, he has an accident.  Most employers have pondered what liability they would have, if any for negligence if the employee harmed himself or someone else.  I recently came across a case that address this question from another angle. What about workers’ compensation benefits? If the employee is hurt in the accident, is he eligible for workers’ comp?  Said another way, was his drive home in the “course and scope of his employment”?

At the end of its 20-page analysis, the court found the employee was not eligible for WCB.  But their rationale was rather intriguing and very fact specific.  To get to the holiday party, the employee drove past the exit to his home. As a result, they determined he had “completed his homeward travel” and was “outside the scope of employment when the injury occurred.”

Lessons Learned? Don’t hang your hat on this one.  The decision was not unanimous. It does seem to include a factor unrelated to the scope of employment. It is dependent upon where your employee lives.  As one dissenting judge wrote, “…had Claimant’s home been located on the other side of the Tilted Kilt, or his travels taken him back to town in a different direction, the Majority would not have found that he abandoned his employment.” So, if you’re hosting a holiday event that will include alcohol, talk to your workers’ comp carrier in advance for any advice, suggestions or recommendations to limit your liability.