If you own a small business, you may sometimes require your employees to travel for work. It’s a normal part of our work lives – attending meetings in other cities or going to off-site trainings. Unfortunately, this travel may also be a serious liability. If employees are in a car accident while traveling for work, as the business owner, you may be held liable for their injuries.
Before you put your employees on the road, make sure you know what your responsibilities are if they’re hurt while traveling. Though the rules vary by state, business travel is an extension of the office and associated injuries will be treated as such.
In order to understand why employers are responsible for workers who are injured in the course of work, it’s necessary to understand the concept of vicarious liability. Vicarious liability is a legal concept that gives employees the right to sue employers for injuries that occur while on the clock.
What makes vicarious liability different from traditional workers compensation is that workers compensation typically only covers injuries that occur when performing a traditional work task. So, for example, workers compensation covers medical treatment for back injuries caused by lifting boxes in a warehouse or brain injuries caused by falling objects at a construction site – and it only covers physical injuries. Vicarious liability, on the other hand, covers damages to the vehicle if the employee is driving their personal car and other affiliated expenses.
Seeking A Cause
When determining whether you’re liable for your employee’s car accident, you’ll need to consider fault; car accidents can be caused by driver negligence, structural problems with the road, and defective vehicles, among other causes. This raises the question, if your employee is at fault, are you still liable? As past cases indicate, travel cases often come down to the individual judge. After all, the driver was still on the road because you sent them on a work trip. As one lawyer experienced with company travel cases explains, work travel cases are won when the injury “relate(s) to or originate(s) in the employer’s business and occur(s) in the furtherance of the affairs of the employer.”
Beware Excess Travel
In order to minimize your company’s potential liability for travel-related car accidents, it’s imperative that you avoid adding excess travel to their professional calendar – but don’t stop there. Another way employers have found themselves in hot water is by incentivizing carpooling arrangements within the workplace.
Ordinarily, when employees are in an accident while traveling to and from work, employers are exempted by the coming and going rule – commuting is the employee’s personal responsibility. However, in some offices, the administration offers a financial incentive to employees to carpool, such as paying the person who drives. In such cases, the employer again becomes liable for the employees’ travel and if they are involved in an accident in the course of the commute, you are again legally responsible for their injuries and vehicle damages. Many companies have restructured their carpooling policies in light of this issue.
Work-related car accidents can be just as devastating as ordinary workplace injuries, but too often they are overlooked within the workers compensation framework. When employees are traveling for work, injuries are your responsibility. Liability doesn’t end at your front door.