Defining on the Job in Boston Workplace Accidents

In Boston, a worker injured on the job is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits so long as they are an employee within the meaning of the the workers’ compensation act found in Chapter 152, Section 1 of the Massachusetts General Laws (M.G.L).  The question that often arises is whether the worker was actually on-the-job at the time of the injury.  This can be even more complex when the employee is given a company-owned vehicle or when the injury occurs in the parking lot of the worker’s place of employment.

In the context of company-owned vehicles, some jobs offer the “benefit” of a take home car, meaning the employee can drive the business’s car home at the end of a shift and take it back the next day.  This is not so much a “company car” as we see on TV with high-paying jobs, but more like a police car or other type of service vehicle.

Boston workplace InjuriesAccording to a recent news article from NECN, a worker employed by the City of Boston was sitting in a vehicle owned by his employer, the city, when someone approached and shot him.  Authorities have said the injured worker was in his neighborhood at the time of the shooting on his way to work and is a 54-year-old man who works for Department of Public Works (DPW).  At the time of the shooting, he was in his DPW service vehicle, which was photographed at the scene of the shooting with bullet holes in the door panel and cordoned off with police caution tape.  There were also windows broken in the vehicle from where the bullets entered the passenger compartment. He was hit primarily in the legs and lower body.

The worker managed to pull over after being shot and dialed 911.  He was rushed to a local level one trauma center in Downtown Boston, where was treated for serious injuries. Police have not yet determined a motive for the shooting, but a spokesperson has said this is not believed to a random act of violence.  The worker was rushed to emergency surgery upon arrival at the Boston hospital.

As our Boston workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, although the worker was inside his employer’s vehicle, a claim for benefits will still require the worker to show he was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the shooting. His presence in the vehicle is one factor that will be considered. Injuries resulting from acts of violence can be compensable under Massachusetts workers’ compensation provisions so long as the worker can show he or she was furthering their employer’s interests in some capacity at the time. OSHA reports that of the nearly 4,700 fatal workplace injuries reported in the U.S. in a single recent year, more than 400 were workplace homicides.

To answer the question of whether an injury or illness was work-related ultimately comes down to determining if the injury occurred in the course and scope of employment.

Sikorskis Case – Determining if Injury Occurred in Course and Scope of Employment

One important ruling on this issue in Massachusetts was the Sikorski Case, 455 Mass. 477 (2009), which was argued in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). In Sikorski’s case, a teacher was injured while she was on a school ski trip.  On the trip she was acting a chaperone for the students as required by school policy.

This trip was sanctioned by the school ski club, and sponsored by the school as well. It was a multi-day ski trip so chaperones were required and claimant volunteered to serve in such capacity.  She was allowed to ski while not actively supervising the students and fell while on the slopes.  She applied for workers’ compensation benefits, but her claim was denied on grounds that she was engaged in a recreational activity and not acting in the course of her employment.

Following a denial on her claim for workers’ compensation benefits, she filed a case with the workers’ compensation commission.  There was a hearing before an administrative judge (AJ), and her claim was again denied holding that she was engaged in a recreational activity.  She then appealed and was granted a hearing before another AJ than the one who initially denied her appeal. Like the first AJ, this one also denied her claim for benefits for the same reason.

She then appealed to the state court and it was held that she was on the job when her injury occurred. The court concluded that the school had sponsored the trip as a recreational activity for the students, but the teacher was there in her capacity as a teacher to supervise the children. Even though she enjoyed skiing, and it is typically a recreational activity, she would not have been at the ski resort the day of the accident had she not been acting in further of her employer’s interest.

Acting in Furtherance of Employer’s Interest

Acting in furtherance of one’s employer’s interest is the real test for whether the injury was work-related. While driving to work, even in a company-owned vehicle, would probably not be considered an on the job, going somewhere in that same vehicle for work such as to check a DPW jobs site would likely be considered on the job for the purposes of the workers’ compensation statute.

In this case, the exception her employer was relying upon was included in the 1985 amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Act. This exception states that an employee in not on the job when in a purely recreational activity, even if the employer pays all or part of the costs. For example, if there is a company picnic and it includes a company softball game,  an injury that occurred while playing in the game would not be considered a workplace accident. The court however distinguished the student trip because she was not there for purely recreational purposes.

These are fairly complex issues so the best thing a claimant who is injured on the job can do is to speak with an experienced Boston workers’ compensation attorney as early in the process as possible.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Boston Department of Public Works Employee Injured in Early Morning Shooting in Mattapan, December 14, 2017, By Cassy Arsenault and Kaitlin McKinley Becker

More Blog Entries:
Report: Three Workers Burned in Natural Gas Explosion, Feb. 18, 2017, Boston Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog