In any area of law, including workers’ compensation, the rules change from time to time. Sometimes it’s because a new law goes into effect. Other times it’s because a court rules on an interpretation of the written law or how it applies in various situations.

I recently heard that insurance companies are telling injured workers that the law has changed when it comes to compensation for “traveling employees” who suffer a work injury. Apparently, they are doing this based on a fairly recent case that was decided by the Illinois Supreme Court, in which an employee traveling for work did not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits after an accident. The insurance company was apparently using this to its advantage, I assume to either deny claims or dissuade workers from pursuing claims.

It’s very misleading, if not false, to say that the rule has changed for traveling employees. For any employee, you can only get workers’ compensation benefits if you are injured “in the course of” your employment. A common example is an accident going to or from work. In general, you can’t get workers’ compensation benefits for accidents that happen during your daily commute because it didn’t happen in the course of your employment. The law has always had special rules for traveling employees, however. A commute between a hotel and work site, for example, is in the course of employment. The rationale is that you wouldn’t even be in that place at that time if you weren’t there for work.

In the recent case, the employee was a worker who took a temporary job at a plant about 200 miles from his home. He was not required to stay near the work site, but he chose to do so. He got seriously injured while driving from his hotel to the plant one morning. The case reached the Illinois Supreme Court over the issue of whether he was a traveling employee and entitled to benefits for his accident. The court decided that he wasn’t a traveling employee because he was not required to take the job, not required to stay nearby and the employer did not make any travel/lodging arrangements or provide any reimbursement for either. And because he wasn’t a traveling employee, his accident was like a regular commute accident – not in the course of his employment.

I wouldn’t call this a change in the law. It’s more like a clarification. And if you’re a traveling employee, this “clarification” probably doesn’t apply to you because it affects a very specific type of employee in very specific circumstances. So don’t let an insurance company make broad statements to discourage you.

If you have any questions about what you hear from the insurance company (or your employer), give us a call. We are experienced workers’ compensation attorneys who help injured workers anywhere from Chicago down to Southern Illinois. Talking to us is free and confidential.