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When Does The Special Mission Exception To The Premises Rule Apply?

By on August 27, 2021 in Workers' Comp Basics with 0 Comments

One of the most misunderstood rules in workers’ compensation is the so-called “special mission” exception to the premises rule, which is New Jersey’s successor to the better known “going-and-coming rule.”  The New Jersey premises rule says that one is at work when he or she arrives at the work premises.  The main exception to that rule is the special mission exception.  Confusion abounds on this exception because few read the actual letter of the law.  Many think that the special mission applies when an employee has to drive somewhere out of the ordinary or work hours that are unusual.  That may not be true at all.

Here is what the statute actually says: “…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.”  This language comes from NJSA 34:15-36.

Consider some common scenarios:

  1. An employee works for a large food distributor reporting every day to a satellite office in Cherry Hill, N.J., but once a year the employee must report to the employer’s headquarters in Jersey City for an annual review.  The employee is injured returning from Jersey City to his home in a car accident.  Special mission?
  2. An employee is approved for an educational seminar in Los Angeles, gets to the hotel, takes a warm, hot bath in the evening and slips and falls on the hotel bathroom floor, fracturing her femur.  Special mission?
  3. The maintenance superintendent for a large rental complex is summoned at nine p.m. to come back to work immediately because there is a power outage in the employer’s building where the superintendent works 9-5.  Special mission?
  4. The head of HR leaves work at four p.m. on Friday afternoon but gets a phone call during her drive home and is told to come to work for a special meeting on Saturday at nine a.m.  Special mission?
  5. A defense lawyer leaves his home on Monday morning and travels to Paterson workers’ compensation court, where the attorney drives every three weeks to handle a regular list.  On the way she is involved in a serious car accident.  Special mission?

All of these scenarios have one thing in common: they are unusual assignments for the employee either to locations where the employee does not normally work or during hours when the employee does not normally work.  But only two of these scenarios would meet the test of a special mission.  If you guessed numbers two and five, you are correct. 

In number two, the employee is at a location away from the employer’s premise on an approved seminar when the slip and fall occurs.  The employee’s presence in the hotel room is expected and necessary to complete the work assignment.  In number five, the defense lawyer is required by the employer to drive to a location away from the employer’s place of employment to perform court duties.  The accident happens on the way to court.

But examples 1, 3 and 4 would not constitute a special mission.  But why not?  Number one is easy because the employee is reporting to the employer’s work site in Jersey City. It doesn’t matter that this is not where the employee normally works:  The rule says it must be “away from the employer’s place of employment.”  This is the company’s headquarters!  

The same outcome applies for numbers three and four. Although the employees in numbers three and four may consider their assignments to be out of the ordinary and rather taxing (driving to work late at night or having to work on a Saturday), the test is not whether there is a deviation from the ordinary work schedule.  The test is whether the employee is required by the employer to be away from the employer’s place of employment.  They were both reporting to their normal work site.  So for numbers 1, 3, and 4, the normal premises rule applies.

The second part of the special mission exception is easier to understand.  When an accident occurs away from the employer’s place of employment, the employee must be engaged in the direct performance of work duties for the accident to be compensable.   So in the first example, if the employee at the seminar in Los Angeles is a baseball fan and decides to travel by herself to Chavez Ravine one night to watch the Dodgers play the Giants and falls in the stadium, that injury would not be covered because the game has nothing to do with the distant work assignment.   What would be covered on a distant assignment or at a seminar? Courts have found that injuries getting meals at a hotel or walking to one’s hotel room would certainly be covered.   Taking clients out to a different hotel for dinner or to a sporting event while at a seminar would certainly be covered.  That makes sense, but not everything one does on an approved trip is covered, just as not everything that one does in the normal work environment is covered. For example, the fitness-obsessed employee who jumps rope during breaks and falls will not win a workers’ compensation case even if the injury occurs on premises.

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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