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Employer Not Liable For Telecommuter’s Accident While Traveling From Home To Office

Published by on October 26, 2010

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia recently found that a federal employee who worked from home was not acting within the scope of his employment when he was involved in an accident traveling from his home to a government office.  Because the telecommuter was not acting within the scope of […]

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia recently found that a federal employee who worked from home was not acting within the scope of his employment when he was involved in an accident traveling from his home to a government office.  Because the telecommuter was not acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred, the Court held that the federal government was not required to defend the employee in the personal injury suit filed against the employee after the accident.  More after the break.

Dennis Beauclair, a project manager for the General Services Administration (“GSA”), worked five days per week from his home office, which was fully equipped by the GSA with the necessary supplies.  Mr. Beauclair’s telecommute agreement with the GSA stated that his work day was from 6:30 am to 4:00 pm. 

While traveling from his home to a GSA office, Mr. Beauclair was involved in a car accident at approximately 5:30 am.  Prior to leaving his house the morning of the accident, Mr. Beauclair went to his home office and gathered some items to bring with him to the GSA office, but he did not complete any work assignments prior to leaving his home.  At the time of the accident, Mr. Beauclair was driving his own car and he was not reimbursed for any of the expenses for traveling from his home to the GSA office.  Mr. Beauclair was later sued by an individual injured in the accident.  Mr. Beauclair requested a Certificate of Scope of Employment under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which would require that the United States government substitute itself for Mr. Beauclair as a party to the lawsuit. 

In denying Mr. Beauclair’s request for a Certificate of Scope of Employment, the Court applied Virginia respondeat superior law and concluded that Mr. Beauclair was commuting to work at the time of the accident.  The Court held that under Virginia law, an employee’s commute to work is generally outside the scope of employment, and therefore, the government was not liable for Mr. Beauclair’s accident.  

The Court rejected Mr. Beauclair’s argument that during the accident, he was traveling from one worksite (his home office) to another (the GSA office), which is generally within the scope of employment under Virginia law.  In holding that Mr. Beauclair was commuting to work rather than traveling between worksites, the Court relied on the several key facts.  First, Mr. Beauclair was not compensated by the GSA for his travel from home to the GSA office.  Additionally, the accident occurred before the official start of his workday and he was not traveling from his home to the GSA office under any supervisor’s instructions.  Finally, Mr. Beauclair had not performed any work duties for the GSA on the day of the accident.    

For a copy of the Court’s full order, please click here.

Contributed by Laura B. Chaimowitz

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