With better internet connections and better remote network access, working from home has become commonplace. But a recent Missouri appellate decision may cause some employers to think twice about such an arrangement.
In Tran v. Dave’s Electric, 2011 Mo.App.Lexis 1521, the Western District Court of Appeals ruled that an employer was liable for its employee’s negligent operation of her vehicle while driving to work. The context of the case was a cross-over accident on an icy highway. The Dave’s Electric employee was on her way to the office for an appointment with an auditor from the Company’s workers compensation carrier.
Under the “going and coming” rule, an employee is generally not considered in the course and scope of employment when driving to work. Thus, employers are rarely held liable under respondeat superior for accidents like the one in Tran However, the Western District found that the “special errand” exception applied because the evidence at trial was that when the roads were bad, the Dave’s Electric employee typically worked from home. An employee’s trip may qualify as a “special errand” when it is “…undertaken to serve the employer’s purposes, at a time and in a manner dictated by those purposes; the trip must not be a routine portion of the employee’s duties, and must subject the employee to special inconvenience, hazard, or urgency.”
The Court’s decision in Tran clearly interprets the scope of the “special errand” exception broadly. Missouri employees are frequently called upon to traverse icy and snowy roadways. The decision also appears to ignore the realities of today’s workplace where employees may have some task that they are allowed to complete at home, but still have other task which they are required to complete at the Company’s place of business. In the case of the latter tasks, it seems unfair to saddle the employer with potential liability simply because it is willing to allow its employees to complete the former tasks from the comfort of their own home.
By: Kyle Roehler (firstname.lastname@example.org)