Alabama employers who provide employees with cell phones and laptop computers are increasing their exposure to claims for benefits under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. See Hospice Family Care v. Allen, No. 2140961, 2016 WL 3223297 (Ala. Civ. App. Jun. 10, 2016). Suzanne Allen was a hospice nurse who was required to drive around North Alabama treating patients. Her employer did not provide a car, but paid mileage on her personal vehicle. The employer also provided Ms. Allen with a cell phone and laptop computer. Ms. Allen’s work schedule was from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but her employer encouraged her to go home after seeing her last patient, rather than returning to the office each day. Ms. Allen was killed while driving home on February 3, 2014 at 3:46 p.m., when her car was struck by a vehicle in the wrong lane.
Courts in Alabama usually follow the “going and coming rule.” Under that rule, the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act generally does not cover an accident which occurs while a worker is traveling on a public road while going to or coming form work. Thus, the employer in Hospice Family Care argued that Ms. Allen’s accident was not covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act, because she was unquestionably travelling home.
Based upon the facts of the case, however, a trial court and the Court of Civil Appeals found that Ms. Allen’s accident was covered. In particular, the court noted that Ms. Allen was provided a laptop computer and cellphone and she regularly worked on patient charts for two hours after arriving home. As the court put it, “nurses were encouraged to go home to complete their required tasks.” Because Ms. Allen was “going home to complete a required task,” the Court found that her drive home was in the furtherance of the business of Hospice Family Care and, therefore covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act.
Unquestionably, technology provides a great benefit to all employers. With that benefit, however, comes additional risks. Hospice Family Care demonstrates one of those risks. If employers encourage employees to work from home, and provide the technology to do so, then accidents that would not ordinarily be covered could potentially be subject to the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act.