Walesca Benvenutti worked for Scholastic Bus Company as a school bus driver. She drove children to school in the morning and then drove them home in the afternoon. She was required to clean the bus interior and inspect the seatbelts after each run. The testimony of both petitioner and her employer was that there was no specific time that she had to clean the bus. The employer confirmed that she was permitted to clean the bus off-premises and was paid additional money to clean the bus interior.
On June 9, 2010, petitioner parked the bus in front of her house after her morning run. Before she exited the bus, she said she swept the bus and inspected the seat belts. She testified that she tripped over a piece of rubber mat and fell while exiting the bus, sustaining injuries. The respondent denied the claim because petitioner had prepared a handwritten statement three days after the incident occurred in which she never mentioned that she was cleaning the bus before she fell.
Petitioner testified at trial that when she wrote the handwritten statement, she was principally concerned about informing her employer that she had fallen and broken her ankle. She said it did not occur to her at the time to inform her employer that she had just cleaned the bus.
The Judge of Compensation reviewed the testimony of the various witnesses and noted that two of the employer's witnesses admitted that petitioner was permitted to sweep the bus at home. The judge also noted that it was a job requirement that petitioner clean the bus between runs during the day. The judge found petitioner's testimony to be credible and ruled in favor of compensability.
The Appellate Division affirmed and stated, “The definition of ‘employment' under the statute is multi-faceted, and includes situations in which the employee is physically away from the employer's premises but nevertheless is ‘engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer.'” N.J.S.A. 34:15-36.
The Court said that “Courts must bear in mind that ‘the language of the [Act] must be liberally construed in favor of employees.'” Cannuscio v. Claridge Hotel, 319 N.J. Super. 342, 349 (App. Div. 1999). The Court ruled that as long as the employee is engaged in the direct performance of assigned duties, it does not make a difference whether the duties are performed on or off the work premises. The case can be found at Benvenutti v. Scholastic Bus Company, A-3732-11T1 (App.Div.April 4, 2013).
John H. Geaney, a shareholder with Capehart Scatchard, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers' Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates. His blog may be read at http://www.njworkerscompblog.com.
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