An employee works regularly in Cherry Hill, N.J. but three or four times a year is required to work at the company’s north Jersey location in Parsippany. On the way to the Parsippany office, the employee is in a car accident and suffers serious injuries. The employer gets the claim and confers with the carrier and defense counsel. The question is was the employee on a special mission or is this accident barred by the going-and-coming rule, now known as the premises rule?
This issue arises quite frequently in New Jersey workers’ compensation. A technical reading of the law leads to the conclusion that the claim is barred. The employee is just on her way to work, even if it is not the normal place of employment. Counsel for the employee will argue that this does not seem fair at all, but as former Supervising Judge of Bergen County, The Honorable Ray A. Farrington, used to say, “Fair is a place where people come together to see who can grow the biggest watermelon. Let’s see what the law says.”
Here is what the statute has to say:
Employment shall be deemed to commence when an employee arrives at the employer’s place of employment to report for work and shall terminate when the employee leaves the employer’s place of employment, excluding areas not under the control of the employer; provided, however, when the employee is required by the employer to be away from the employer’s place of employment, the employee shall be deemed to be in the course of employment when the employee is engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer.
The key word in the statute as far as a special mission is concerned is “away” from the employer’s place of employment. In this case, the employee is not required to be away from the place of employment at all. It is just a different place of employment. An employer could have multiple places of employment where an employee goes to work from time to time, and if that is the case, the employee’s journey to these distant offices is not covered. It is only a special mission when the employee is required to be away from the place of employment.
This point was made by our Supreme Court in Novis v. Rosenbluth Travel, 138 N.J. 92 (1994). The petitioner in that case worked in the New Jersey office of the travel company but was sent to the branch office in Connecticut to work for a period of time. She stayed in a hotel in Connecticut and then commuted from the hotel to the branch office for several days. One of those days she got out of her car and slipped and fell on the sidewalk on property leading from the parking lot to the building containing the employer’s branch office. The employer did not own or control the parking lot and denied the claim.
Petitioner argued that this was a special mission. She worked in New Jersey almost all the time and was sent to the branch office in another state to work for a short period of time. The Supreme Court disagreed with petitioner. It analogized her hotel to her home and held that the drive from her hotel to the branch office was her normal commute to work. Therefore her injury was not compensable because she had not yet arrived inside the work premises of the branch office.
This is the leading case in New Jersey for multiple employer work sites, and practitioners have both this case and the statutory language above for guidance on this increasingly common issue.