The Workers’ Compensation Act, located at Sections 9-101 through 9-1201 of the Labor and Employment Article of the Maryland Code, was intended “‘to protect workers and their families from hardships inflicted by work-related injuries by providing workers with compensation for loss of earning capacity resulting from accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment.[1] In short, when an employee is injured on-the-job, that employee will be entitled to compensation from his employer.

It is pretty obvious for example that if a factory worker loses a finger while working with dangerous heavy machinery, he or she has suffered an on-the-job injury. On the other hand, it is just as clear that if that factory worker lost his finger while preparing dinner at home for his family, he or she did not sustain an on-the-job injury. What becomes unclear however is the area in between those two scenarios. What happens when an employee is injured on his way to work, or on his way home from work?

Courts have held that employees cannot be compensated for their injuries if the injury occurred while the employee was traveling to or from his job at the beginning or end of the day, or during a lunch period. This concept barring recovery for employees injured while headed to or from work, is known as the “coming and going rule.”[2] But what happens if you are injured while traveling between work sites, or while running work-related errands during the day.

In Roberts v. Montgomery County[3] the court held that these injuries are in fact covered, and are not barred by the coming and going rule. In Roberts, Thaddus Roberts, a paid firefighter employed by Montgomery County, was injured in a motorcycle accident and subsequently filed a workers’ compensation claim. The day of the accident, Roberts was leaving a nearby high school after completing a physical training session, and was now on his way to pick up his work-related mail. Mr. Roberts, as with other firefighters, were encouraged by the Fire Department to engage in two hours of physical training per shift, could physically train at any location of their choice, and were paid during those two hours. In addition, Roberts picked up his work-related mail while on duty once a month, and his supervisors were aware of this and never once objected to it.

Thus, when Thaddus Roberts got into accident on his way to pick up his work-related mail, just after leaving his employer-encouraged physical training session, Thaddus Roberts was working within the scope of his employment and was consequently “on-the-job.” The court held that “The going and coming rule, which generally precludes an award of workers’ compensation to an employee traveling to and from work, is not applicable when an employee is traveling from one site, where he was engaged in employer-encouraged activities [physical training session], to another site, where he was to engage in a work-related task, to which his employer acquiesced [picking up work-related mail].”[4]

The court held that the proper test to analyze such a situation, is the “positional-risk” test, as adopted in Mulready v. University Research Corp., 360 Md. 51, 66, 756 A.2d 575, 583 (2000). Under this test, “an injury arises out of the employment if it would not have occurred “but for” the fact that the conditions and obligations of the employment placed [the employee] in the position where he [or she] was injured.”[5]

Here the court held that Roberts’ employer had encouraged him to engage in his physical training sessions, and had approved of his habit of picking up work-related mail while on the job, and thus, that Roberts would not have been at the location of the accident, when the accident occurred, if it had not been for his job obligations. As such, the court held that Roberts was entitled to compensation from his employer, and in turn set a new standard and avenue for which employees can claim a work-related injury.

[1] Johnson v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 430 Md. 368, 377, 61 A.3d 33, 38 (2013).

[2] Roberts v. Montgomery County, (Ct. App. MD. 2013)

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Roberts v. Montgomery County, (Ct. App. MD. 2013)

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