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Extra Shift Is Not “Special Mission”; “Liberally Construed” Inapplicable to AOE/COE

After Wednesday’s post, this humble blogger was flooded with requests, suggestions, demands, and even threats – all urging another post on the going and coming rule.  Who am I to deny all of these imaginary readers what they want?

But this one – this case for you to hold and cherish for the duration of your weekend – comes from the Court of Appeal: it is, of course, the matter of Lantz v. WCAB/SCIF.

Applicant Lantz was a correctional officer who was tragically killed after a car crash on the drive home from work.  Now, this would not be a blog post if we could simply say “going and coming rule – take nothing!”  The facts in this case complicate the matter to the point where the Court of Appeal felt an opinion was warranted.

Applicant was not just driving home from work on any day – he was required to work an extra shift after his regular shift.  So, while he would normally be commuting home, he was working and when he would normally be home and not working, he was driving home.

The question is whether requiring an employee to work an additional shift at the same location, constitutes a “special mission” so as to defeat the going and coming rule.

The Court of Appeal recognized the special mission exception, but also noted that the special mission exception requires (1) extraordinary activity as compared to routine duties; (2) AOE/COE; and (3) activity was undertaken at the express or implied request of the employer and for the employer’s benefit.

Using this standard, the COA readily conceded that prong 2 and 3 were satisfied – working an additional shift is, no doubt, within the course of the duties of the employee and the activity was mandatory- required by the employer for its benefit.

On the other hand, the first prong is not so easily satisfied.  Is working another shift truly extraordinary?  The test is whether the location, nature or hours of the work to be performed deviates from the norm.  In this case, the COA deferred to the WCAB’s determination that the extra supervisory duties that may come with this particular shift did not rise to the level of extraordinary.

Of interest here is the ready recognition by the Court of Appeal that it is possible that a sudden change in work hours would be extraordinary duty.  The image comes to mind of a deputy suddenly yanked from dispatch to work intake and processing, or a maître de asked to help unload a truck.

One other nugget to consider here:  the Court of Appeal addresses the argument oft cited by lien claimants, applicants’ attorneys, and crazies roaming the streets of San Francisco: “Liberal Construction!”  No, no, dear readers, this isn’t in reference to a bunch of long-haired college hippies building houses out of recycled milk bottles, but, instead, a quote from Labor Code section 3202: “This division and Division 5 … shall be liberally construed by the courts with the purpose of extending their benefits for the protections of persons injured in the course of their employment.”

Ok, calm down, dear reader – I know you’re pounding your keyboard and thinking “why is Greg wasting my time with this? I’m not running a prison, why is this case relevant?”  Well, here it is – the nugget you can take to every case in the workers’ comp system that is set for an AOE/COE trial.

“The policy of liberality is predicated upon there being a person who is ‘injured in the course of [his or her] employment’ and therefore, when given its plain meaning, does not aid in deciding the threshold question of whether the employee was injured in the course of his or her employment.”

So, the next time there is a question of whether the injury is compensable at an AOE/COE trial, any effort to use the liberal construction language of 3202 to lower the standard of proof the applicant must otherwise meet, Lantz should be at the ready to negate the argument, as a citeable, binding, published decision.  Have a good weekend!

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