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Work travel makes me sick

Posted by Elaine Varelas  June 17, 2009 10:00 AM

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Q. I recently traveled to the Middle East for work, and while there got food poisoning and had to go to the hospital. As a result, I had to pay significant out of pocket expenses because the hospital was "out of network" under my insurance plan.

Because this was a work trip, I thought this would be a workers compensation claim. My Human Resources Director said no, that I needed to pay it and the company wasn't liable. Who is right?

A. Organizations have a wide range of practices when it comes to business travel, and understanding these prior to travel is strongly recommended. Questions often arise about what is reimbursable, ownership of air miles, and even when travel starts and is completed.

Because this question involves workers compensation issues, which are legally bound, and not just a company policy or practice, I consulted with Attorney Josiah Black of Bello Black & Welsh LLP, a leading Labor and Employment law firm in Boston. Attorney Black found the question a good one.

"The answer may vary under the laws of different states, and the law of the state in which the employee regularly works will control. The availability of workers' compensation benefits depends on whether the employee's food poisoning arose "in the course of employment", Black commented.

Attorney Black continued, "You state that the employee was traveling on business, but this does not end the inquiry. Under the law of most states, the outcome would turn on whether the employee was eating a meal that was business-related at the time he/she became ill. If the meal took place during the working day or if the employee was eating with colleagues or a client at the time, it is likely that the illness would be deemed covered by workers' compensation insurance. Conversely, if the employee was eating alone or with family members after the work day had ended, then benefits would probably not be available."

Employees who travel for business often believe that travel begins when they leave their home or office, and ends when they return to their home, with all occurring in between to be considered business travel. Clearly, this is often not considered the case, and employers and employees need to make sure they understand, and are in agreement as to where responsibility starts and ends- prior to travel.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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20 comments so far...
  1. To the letter writer, I'd begin looking for employment elsewhere. Despite what the legal jargon says, just because you are eating alone "after hours", you are still on a business trip -- it's not like you chose to be there, your company is being slimy and cheap. Would they have paid you overtime if you put in a 15-20 hour day at the client site? Would they have reimbursed you for the cost of taking the clients out for dinner, and would they have paid for the hospital if you had taken the clients out for a business dinner?

    I guess if the answer to the last question is "yes", then clients are going to LOVE when you come to town since you could always take them out to eat.

    And companies wonder why people hate them, morale is low and people steal office supplies. Did you have the option of refusing the travel? Probably not. I'm also betting they were happy to take up your weekend time to get you there and then probably grumped when you weren't in the office on the dot at 9AM after your redeye flight.

    Posted by sick of it all June 17, 09 01:00 PM
  1. I would like to know how does this applies to employees in Massachusetts.

    Posted by Manuel Salmeron June 17, 09 02:48 PM
  1. when you fill out an expense report for meals, etc that they will reimburse, add an extra $20-100 every time until you cover your medical expenses. your company is treating you slimy & cheap, so just make sure you get paid however you have to. it's not a good time to quit a job.

    Posted by ada quinn June 17, 09 04:41 PM
  1. ada -- businesses require receipts. If you fudge your reports and your receipts don't add up or they look questionable, you will get fired. And barred from unemployment benefits. And possibly charged with stealing. Wow.

    Posted by jlen June 18, 09 08:36 AM
  1. I think it's time to find a new job.

    You were in the Middle East at the request of your employer. Whether you got the food poisoning having a business luncheon with a client or after hours in your hotel should not matter. The company should cover your out-of-pocket expenses associated with this unfortunate situation.

    Their refusal to cover these out-of-pocket costs indicates that they are both cheap and sleazy.

    Before I would make any more business trips, I would get it in writing that the company will be covering all out-of-pocket expenses, while I am traveling on their behalf.

    Use the time in the evenings in your hotel room to update your resume, so that you leave these cheapskates!

    Posted by vinca123 June 18, 09 10:20 AM
  1. This is BS, companies have to make money and employees have to make sacrifices....It's that simple, get tough and deal with it.

    Posted by Gary Hansen June 18, 09 10:49 AM
  1. Get a lawyer.

    If the company reimbursed the meal, then the company clearly thought it was a business meal, whether meeting with clients or not.

    I've seen sillier WC claims compensated, so you might as well try. Like the fire protection officer that got mental anguish relief after their fire dog was injured. Classic abuse of WC system.

    With any luck, the company will fire you for filing a claim. Then you can get big bucks.

    Posted by Not a lawyer, but you need one June 18, 09 10:57 AM
  1. In California, the employee would have been covered by Workers' Comp from portal to portal, meaning from when the trip began to when he returned home. It could not hurt to ask the HR person at your office to provide you with a claim form.

    Posted by CA W/C Adjuster June 18, 09 11:16 AM
  1. It does sound like your company is being slimey and cheap. But regardless of them, you need to take steps to protect yourself - both your finances and your health and safety. This time it was *just* food poisoning; it could have been something much worse. Whenever you travel overseas for work, make sure you get one of those medical travel/evacuation/trip interruption policies; (the real ones, not those ones they sell in the airports). AAA sells them. Depending on your age, they are fairly inexpensive, about $100-200. You should probably add the cost of the policy to your request for travel reimbursement from your company.

    Posted by Nancy G June 18, 09 11:54 AM
  1. It seems that people's moral sense of right and wrong is far better than the that of slimy CEOs. The laws need to be changed to stipulate that employees must be covered by workers compensation from the time they leave their home on a business trip until they return -- 24/7. Of course these same sick CEOs will use the Chamber of Commerce to fight against such a measure because they will worry about how it will affect the insurance premiums and, hence, their bloated salaries.

    Posted by Russel Kester June 18, 09 12:12 PM
  1. A suggestion would be for the Employer to purchase a policy covering the employee trips , Foreign Travel coverage. We have a policy that provides the employer voluntary Compensation and Employers liability, travel accident & sickness, kidnap ransom etal. Of course the coverage territory is subject to
    Company approval and "Middle East" is an area that may not be covered.

    Posted by Ann June 18, 09 12:12 PM
  1. Some corporate life insurance policies pay double if you are killed or die when working on behalf of the employer. I do not think telling the surviving spouse that your wife/husband expired at 6:05 put her/him five minutes beyond the work day would hold water. Therefore I discount Mr. Black's circumlocutious arguement with himself.

    Posted by Jim McDonald June 18, 09 01:13 PM
  1. It's cases like this that I enjoy bringing up when people put forth an argument that it is not fair to tax the wealthy at a higher rate than those who don't earn as much. The vast majority of wealthy people didn't become wealthy by caring about their fellow man. If well paid executives consistently dealt with issues of this sort in a manner befitting individuals who are compassionate toward others, perhaps some compassion could be shown them. It's quite rare that you have someone like Aaron Feuerstein who clearly demonstrates their consideration for their employees.

    Posted by Paul Longenderfer June 18, 09 01:21 PM
  1. Similar thing happened to me, while working in Canada i got hand/foot/mouth and missed over a week of work. I had to use my vaca time and pat for all of the hospital bills, i was pretty upset. I don't work there anymore

    Posted by Andrew June 18, 09 02:47 PM
  1. I'm surprised that the individual who was traveling (work-related) in the middle east and became ill, had an out of pocket expense that he had to pay for. Usually, at my job, we secure "foreign travel" insurance which includes medical and repatriation expenses. The employer should make sure whomever he is sending out of the country to work for him, has the appropriate insurance needed in the event that they become ill. I think the employer was being cheap and obviously does not have any concern whatsoever for his employees.

    Posted by Anonymous June 18, 09 03:24 PM
  1. Different rules may apply if your travel was related to a government contract. Much travel to the middle east now is in relation to such contracts and as such, you and your travel related illness may be subject to the rules governing the Defense Base Act which is a federal workers' compensation scheme and not necessarily by the rules of your state of residence or work.

    Posted by Kevin Combes June 18, 09 03:59 PM
  1. I am an insurance broker and have many clients that Travel overseas. If a firm is sending employees abroad on a regular basis they should purchase foreign workers compensation coverage. This provides seamless coverage 24/7 while traveling for business.

    Posted by Kathy Murch McCarthy June 18, 09 04:22 PM
  1. I have spent the last 20+ years in WC. The general consensus (and this theory has been tested several times over (even in different states)) is that while an employee is traveling for the employer they are under the direction and control of the employee actions. If the employer benefited from the employee's actions out of state or even out of the country - the case is considered compensable.

    I agree with some of the sentiments that the employer made the decision of the claim not being compensable without inveistigation denies the employee their right to due process.

    A claim should be filed. An investigation done. If the employer is self insured and they chose to 'deny' the claim then the employee should retain counsel or better yet - find another place to work.

    Posted by Debra S. Dreye June 18, 09 06:13 PM
  1. Attorney Black is assuming a lot of things, and I'm not so even if his assumptions were dead-on that he'd be correct anyhow.

    Posted by Anonymous June 18, 09 07:04 PM
  1. If you are required to travel out of the country for your job, your employer should definitely provide insurance that covers you for any medical expenses you may incur while traveling on business. This would of course apply only to urgent care since routine medical care should always be scheduled while you are at home.

    Any hospital visit is expensive if you need to pay for it out of pocket. You are lucky it was "only" food poisoning and not something that required surgery and/or a lengthy hospital stay. Even a healthy individual can experience a medical emergency at any time.

    Posted by Tricia June 19, 09 01:04 PM

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