Monday, September 26, 2016

Travel Status

There are some federal employees who are required to travel as part of their job. An employee who is required to travel as part of their job is considered to be in Travel Status.

When you are in travel status, you are covered continuously during the trip, except when a distinct departure on a personal errand is shown. This is true whether the travel is within or outside the United States.

The rules of travel status that apply are taken from Larson’s The Law of Workers’ Compensation.

The relevant passage states:

“Employees whose work entails travel away from the employer’s premises are held in the majority of jurisdictions to be within the course of their employment continuously during the trip, except when a distinct departure on a personal errand is shown. Thus, injuries arising out of the necessity of sleeping in hotels or eating in restaurants away from home are usually held compensable.”

Injuries sustained while in a travel status would be considered work-related as long as you were considered to be in a work status. For instance, while in travel status you are considered working while driving, when boarding a plane, while flying, travel to and from the hotel, or going to eat, while in your hotel room, etc.

If physical therapy, (PT) is required of you, then approved activities would be covered if you were working out (engaging in PT). Whether or not you are covered while performing PT is dependent on the agency's authorized PT activities.

For instance, if the agency authorizes jogging/running as part of required PT and you are injured either on a treadmill or while jogging in the area, this would be work-related. But you have to be within the activities the agency has authorized.

Some agencies have specific activities that are considered required or suggested PT such as jogging, swimming, cycling, etc...If an agency specifies that jogging be done on a treadmill and you are hit by a car jogging on the street, you would not be covered under OWCP. If cycling is an approved form of PT but it’s specific to a stationary bike and you are out riding a bike and are injured, that would not be covered.

Some agencies authorize weight-lifting, but some do not. If weight-lifting is not authorized and you engaged in weight-lifting and were injured, that would not be covered. Or if you went water skiing or rock climbing as PT, but water skiing and/or rock climbing are not authorized PT activities, then you would not be covered.

So if you are engaging in required PT while in travel status but perform activities outside what the agency authorizes as PT, then you have deviated from the work-related activities and that is considered a personal decision to engage in recreational activity.

These activities would be considered a personal choice and not work-related and OWCP will deny the claim.

There are other instances where injuries that occurred would not be considered in performance of duty. These instances occur when you deviate from your work activities.

My suggestion would be that you be  aware of what the agency does and does not authorize as PT. This is because even if you are engaging in an authorized activity, the agency often fights the claim. Part of the problem is that the agency doesn’t understand what is and isn’t covered while in a travel status or if they do, they just don’t want claims to be accepted so they fight them.

For instance, if you went swimming in a hotel pool and swimming was part of authorized PT, if you were injured, that would be considered work-related. But if you went to the ocean to swim, that would be a deviation unless the agency has authorized swimming in the ocean.

If you are in travel status and went out to eat, that would be considered in the performance of duty. But if you went to eat and then went to meet a friend or went to a bar (a secondary location) or went to run a personal errand, then that would be a deviation and you would not be considered working or in performance of your duties.

If you went straight to/from the restaurant to the hotel, you're covered if injured. But if on the way back to the hotel you decided to go for a walk or sight-seeing and were injured, that would not be covered because you deviated from the route back to the hotel.

Also, you wouldn’t be covered under OWCP if you engaged in something you shouldn’t or something dangerous. For instance, if you were hailing a taxi to return to your hotel after dinner, but decided to stand in the middle of the street to do it and were hit by a car, this isn’t going to be considered work-related because you put yourself in danger by standing in traffic. Or if you were engaging in ‘horseplay’ (roughhousing or fooling around) and were injured, you would not be covered under OWCP.

An easy way to remember it is to think of it as a straight line. As long as you are going to or from without deviation, you're covered. When that straight line is broken, you're not covered.

When you deviate from the normal incidents of your trip and engage in activities, personal or otherwise, which are not reasonably incidental to the duties of your travel status contemplated by the employer, you cease to be under the protection of FECA and any injury occurring during that deviation is not compensable.

When an employee is in travel status and is injured, the first thing OWCP is supposed to do is determine if the employee deviated from their work activities. If it’s determined the employee did not deviate outside what is considered work activities, then like all OWCP claims, the medical evidence becomes crucial.

So when you give your statement of events, it should be specific about not deviating from what you were doing. In other words, you should detail that straight line. You should say that you didn’t deviate from your line of travel and that you were not on a personal errand.

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