Is It A Work Injury If It Happens On The Way To Work? It Depends
In Massachusetts, an employee who is injured in a work accident may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. But what qualifies as a work accident is not always clear. Take the example where a person is on the way to work but has not reached his work station yet.
An injury occurring while an employee is traveling to or from a fixed place of employment is generally not covered by workers' compensation insurance. Chernick’s Case, 286 Mass. 168, 172 (1934). This is referred to as the Coming and Going Rule. Gwaltney’s Case, 355 Mass. 333 (1969). “Travel” is defined as entering onto a public way for purpose of going to work. Brown v. All Care Resources, 18 Mass. Workers’ Comp. Rep. 277 (2004).
However, as soon as the employee has reached the employer’s premises, the Coming and Going Rule ceases to operate. Thus, an injury occurring in a parking lot owned by or under the control of the employer is compensable. This is true even if an injury occurs on an intervening public street or private way separating the parking lot from the employer’s building. Rogers’ Case, 318 Mass. 308 (1945); Horan's Case, 346 Mass. 128 (1963); Mannering’s Case, 290 Mass. 517 (1935); Mikel v. MBTA, 14 Mass. Workers’ Comp. Rep. 84 (2000).
In Rogers' Case, an employee had arrived as a passenger in a car driven by a fellow employee to a parking lot furnished by the employer. “[T]he employee, while actually on his employer's premises and on his way to the place where his day's work was to be performed by a route which he was permitted and expected to take, fell and was injured.” Rogers' Case, supra, 318 Mass. at 309. Compensation was awarded to the employee. See id.
Whether the employee is on the clock is not relevant in this type of case: an employee “using the parking facilities provided by his employer was within the scope of his employment one-half hour before he was obliged to report for the performance of his duties.” Horan's Case, 346 Mass. 128 (1963).
If the employer does not own or control the parking lot, then the analysis will be different, and will turn on whether the employer dictated where employee’s parked or controlled how they came to work. In Froment v. Karten’s Jewelers, 5 Mass. Workers’ Comp. Rep. 268 (1991), the employer reimbursed employees half the cost of parking in a nearby public garage to keep the closer street parking open for customers and to prevent employees from leaving work to feed meters. In denying benefits, the Review Board found that because the employee’s job did not require any traveling and because the employer did not dictate where the employee parked and the employer had no control over the route the employee would take to work, the employer’s payment toward parking charges was merely a perk of the job.
Like many legal issues, the answer to the question of whether a person was hurt "at work" is usually, "It depends."