A Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel recently ruled that an on-call employee was an exception to the “coming and going rule”, meaning that the employee was eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

The case began when Tina Shannon was injured in a motor vehicle accident on her way home from work.  Shannon served as a surgical technician at Roane Medical Center, and on the day of the accident she was driving home from work after being called in to assist in an emergency medical situation.  She was still considered “on-call” when she was involved in the accident.

Tina filed for workers’ compensation benefits after the accident, but the court that heard her case denied her claim.  As a general rule, an employee is not considered to be acting within the scope of their employment when they are commuting to or from work, but the Appeals Panel took a closer look at the conditions of Tina’s employment when deciding the matter.

In their discussion, the Appeals Panel cited four factors that influenced their decision:

  • Whether the employee is paid for time spent on call, either in hourly wage or increased salary.
  • The extent of the restrictions imposed by the employer during on-call hours.
  • The benefits the employer receives from the on-call system.
  • The extent to which the on-call system requires additional travel, which in turn places the employee at greater risk than an ordinary commuter.

In their decision, the Appeals court ruled in favor of the employee in all four factors.  They said Tina received compensation for time on-call, had significant restrictions while on-call, the on-call system provided significant benefits for the employer, and the system required an increased amount of travel which exposed Tina to more risk. After weighing those factors, the Appeals Panel overturned the initial denial.

The case could have a significant impact on other employees who suffer an injury while on-call.  It will certainly affect future cases in Tennessee, and it may also have a national impact.

Attorney Ben Heimerl comments

Ordinarily, workers compensation does not cover your drive to and from work, but I believe the courts got it right in this case.

Employees who are on-call are technically still on the clock. When they are called in, they are often driving to work in a hurry, sometimes in the middle of the night, and oftentimes fatigued.
I believe being on-call puts the employee at an increased risk that the general population does not experience. That increased risk can lead to injuries and should be compensable.