Court Declines Workers’ Comp Coverage for Employee Injured in HVAC Company Vehicle After Clocking Out

April 4, 2022Articles

Court Declines Workers’ Comp Coverage for Employee Injured in HVAC Company Vehicle After Clocking Out

A recent decision by the First District Court of Appeal reversing workers’ compensation coverage for injuries sustained by an employee while driving a company vehicle for an HVAC company illustrates the challenges in determining when work begins and ends for employees who are allowed to take company vehicles home. While this case focuses on workers’ compensation claims, the principles can apply to wage, hour, and other labor and employment issues faced by construction companies.

Critical Takeaways

There is a lot to be learned from this case, but first I want to encourage any company that allows its employees to use company vehicles and/or to drive them home to work with an attorney to develop appropriate policies governing their use. Employee use of vehicles does not just raise questions about what to do if an employee gets into a car accident, but it also can raise wage and hour issues and other non-injury labor and employment-related matters. These laws are complicated and require a company to comply with many different regulations at once. Balancing those competing interests correctly is a challenge even under the best of circumstances.

Second, if your company allows employees to use company vehicles and does not have a written policy regarding them, this should be remedied immediately, preferably with the input of an attorney. Finally, make sure you have proper workers’ compensation insurance coverage. While some people or companies may be exempt, confirm how those exemptions work and what coverage you need to maximize your level of protection in the event a problem arises.

Case Summary

In Kelly Air Systems, LLC v. Kohlun, the employee was an air conditioning service technician who performed service calls throughout a four-county area in Florida using a company-provided vehicle. Pursuant to the employee manual, the employee had the “exclusive ability to drive his employer-provided car to and from work and to make incidental personal trips on the way to and from work, including stopping for gas or groceries.” The employee was not required to drive the vehicle to and from work but was allowed to at his convenience. At the time of his injury, the employee had completed his final service call of the day and had clocked out of work.

On these facts, the Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) determined that the employee was in a “traveling employee status” and therefore his injuries were compensable under Florida’s workers’ compensation laws. The HVAC company and its insurer appealed the decision to the First District Court of Appeal.

On appeal, the First District Court evaluated two separate portions of Florida’s Workers’ Compensation statutes, (1) the “Going and Coming Provision,” and (2) the “Traveling Employees Provision.” The Going and Coming Provision generally removes injuries from workers’ compensation coverage that occur while an employee is travelling to and from work, specifically stating:

“Going or coming. -- An injury suffered while going to or coming from work is not an injury arising out of and in the course of employment whether or not the employer provided transportation if such means of transportation was available for the exclusive personal use by the employee, unless the employee was engaged in a special errand or mission for the employer. 440.092(2), Fla. Stat.”

The court explained that “[t]his section excludes injuries sustained during travel “going to or coming from work” from compensability because, according to the plain language of the statute, these injuries do not arise out of and in the course of employment,” regardless of whether the employer provided the means of transportation. In analyzing the statute further, the First District Court of Appeal determined the Going and Coming Provision did apply to the employee because the vehicle was available for his exclusive personal use for travel to and from work, despite the fact that he could also use it for personal errands during the work day.

The First District Court then turned to the Traveling Employee Provision, which was the basis for the JCC’s determination. The Traveling Employee Provision provides workers’ compensation coverage for employees in a travel status, specifically:

“Traveling employees. -- An employee who is required to travel in connection with his or her employment who suffers an injury while in travel status shall be eligible for benefits under this chapter only if the injury arises out of and in the course of employment while he or she is actively engaged in the duties of employment. This subsection applies to travel necessarily incident to performance of the employee's job responsibility but does not include travel to and from work as provided in subsection (2). 440.092(4), Fla. Stat.”

Here, the First District Court disagreed with the JCC’s determination that the employee was in a “travel status” when injured, because while the employee may have been “traveling,” he was now traveling to or from work, subjecting him to the exclusions contained in the Going and Coming Provision.

Critically, the court then went on to define the boundary between the Going and Coming Provision and the Traveling Employee Provision:

“The question becomes when does work begin and when does it end? Not all employees travel to a fixed location to punch a timecard and begin their workday. Workers' compensation covers injuries that ‘aris[e] out of work performed in the course and the scope of employment.’ § 440.09, Fla. Stat. Generally, for purposes of workers' compensation, an employee ‘means any person who receives remuneration from an employer for the performance of any work or services while engaged in any employment.’ § 440.02(15)(a), Fla. Stat. When and where work begins and ends is, therefore, the product of the agreement reached between the employer and the employee. That is, ‘work’ generally means the performance of an act or service in exchange for sufficient consideration. If an employee is engaged in conduct which entitles her to remuneration under the terms of employment, then that employee is at work.”

The court concluded by determining that the Going and Coming Provision applies to uncompensated travel that is not otherwise connected with employment, stating, “Work begins when the employee starts to be compensated in the normal course of the workday and excludes uncompensated travel to and from the place where compensation begins.” Thus, the Traveling Employee Provision cannot apply unless an employee is working, or at work.

Based on this analysis, and the facts regarding the employee’s use of the vehicle and the conclusion of his work day, the First District Court reversed the JCC’s award of compensation and determined that the employee’s injuries were not compensable under Florida’s Workers’ Compensation laws.

Please contact your Dinsmore attorney with any additional questions related to workers’ compensation.