North Carolina Traveling Employee Accident Not Compensable

26 Aug, 2019 Bruce Burk


Tampa, FL ( – The first question that one looks at when analyzing a workers’ compensation claim is whether the accident occurred within the course and scope of employment. A new case in North Carolina involving a traveling employee is raising new issues on this doctrine. 

A traveling employee in the Bache v. Tic-Gulf Coast case was in a motor vehicle accident and was deemed not to be in the course and scope of employment. The accident happened after the worker went to dinner and drank alcohol. 

The claimant was hired to work as a heavy equipment operator at a power plant in North Carolina. However, he lived in Florida and was staying in a RV in North Carolina. On the date of the accident, the claimant and his co-worker went to a restaurant and the claimant had a beer. They left the resultant and the accident occurred while the claimant had a blood alcohol level of 0.10. 

North Carolina’s law states that traveling employees are within the course and scope of their employment continuously during such travel. The claimant argued that the accident occurred based on travel which was necessitated by his employment. However, the court system disagreed with him.

Traveling employees are treated differently in workers’ compensation than average employees. While employees are traveling some may argue that everything they are doing is in furtherance of the employment. However, the traveling employee doctrine covers only essential activities or things that you need to do to survive, such as eating. In this case, the claimant was separately compensated for his commute to and from work related to his temporary living space.

The opinion seems to suggest that even though the claimant looked like a traveling employee he was actually closer to a non-traveling employee. It was also significant that the claimant did not have a primary place of employment separate from the location where he was working. In other words, if you are a traveling employee then there should be a clear place of work that you are traveling from.

Some other situations where a traveling employee could have a compensable accident could involve doing something specifically assigned to them by their company; using a hotel, bathing, exercising, or entertaining clients.

The claimant’s issue in this case is that he was not truly a traveling employee. Instead, he was a traditional employee living out of state near a temporary job assignment. It cannot be said that he could have a compensable accident at any time as if he was a traveling employee based on these circumstances. He had to travel to and from his primary place of employment just as a traditional employee would. Also, the fact that he drank alcohol removes the activity from being essential because it looks like behavior which is a personal social activity.

Some examples of traveling employees would be a flight attendant, a limo driver, or someone who conducts field trips. Any employee can be a traveling employee if they are sent to a specific location to conduct business for their employer.

The doctrine of traveling employees can also bring up the personal comfort doctrine. The personal comfort doctrine states that activity which represents a small deviation from the course and scope of employment such as buying a pack of cigarettes is still activity which could be covered under workers’ compensation should an accident take place. This also brings up the bunkhouse rule which says that all activity can be covered under workers’ compensation because the employees live at their job. Unfortunately for the claimant in this case, none of these doctrines applied to his case.

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    About The Author

    • Bruce Burk

      Bruce Burk is an experienced workers' compensation defense attorney located in South Florida. He has also worked in civil litigation and criminal defense, handling more than 40 trials, both jury and non-jury. Burk received his law degree from the University of South Carolina and his bachelor's degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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