Employees and Company Vehicles: What Every Employer Should Know

Employees & Company Vehicles: What Every Employer Should Know

Many employees who drive company vehicles are also allowed to take those vehicles home, whether as a company perk or just for expediency, but it’s important for employers to know that this practice does come with some extra risk when it comes to workers’ comp.

The Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (BIIA), which is an independent agency that hears appeals on L&I workers’ comp and self-insured claims, has ruled that a worker is seen to be in the course of employment, and a claim would be valid if an injury occurs from the time the worker enters the vehicle until the time they exit.

The only exception, according to the board, is when a worker deviates from their route. For example, an employee drives to a job site but takes a different route so they can go to their favorite coffee place on the way. Another exception is when an employee takes the company vehicle without being directed to do so by the employer – like if they took the company truck, undirected by anyone, to run to the store to get something to eat.

Outside of those specific situations, L&I will rule that a claim is allowable if an injury occurs while a worker is driving a company vehicle - this includes driving to and from their home to the job site or to the business location.

Below are a few important significant decisions by the BIIA that define when a worker is in the course of employment when using a company vehicle: 

Venho v. Ostrander Railway & Timber Co.

It is the general rule (to which this court adheres) that a workman injured going to and from the place of work is not "in the course of his employment." There is an exception, however, as well established as the rule itself. The exception, which is supported by overwhelming authority, is this: When a workman is so injured while being transported in a vehicle furnished by his employer as an incident of the employment, he is within "the course of his employment," as contemplated by the act. ... the employment begins when the workman enters the vehicle and ends when he leaves it …

Aloha Lumber Corp. v. Dept. of L&I

The court held that the truck was furnished by the employer for its own benefit and that Moxley and Tate were in the course of employment while commuting in the employer-provided truck at the time of the accident.

Thompson v. Dept. of L&I

A worker is not covered while using employer-provided transportation when the use is for the worker's own convenience and is not at the direction of the employer or furthering the employer’s business.

Morris v. Dept of L&I

If a worker deviates from the expected business route in employer-provided transportation, coverage would not exist until the worker returns to the expected business route.

Gray v. Dept of L&I

A worker is not in the course of employment if he or she significantly deviates from the expected route during an otherwise authorized trip. This case can be distinguished from Morris v. Dept. of L&I 1934 where Morris had returned to the point of deviation at the time of the injury.

Ultimately, employers should keep this in mind regarding workers using company vehicles and workers’ comp. While offering a company vehicle is very practical and necessary in many cases, employers should be aware of the risks and liability if an employee is injured when driving a work vehicle.

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