A full-time telecommuter was not acting within the scope of his employment when he drove from his home office to a government office to meet with colleagues.
The telecommuter was on his own time when he had a traffic accident on his way to his employer’s office, an Alexandria federal judge said. Virginia law on respondeat superior did not require his employer, the federal government, to defend a personal injury suit filed after the accident.
The telecommuter, Dennis Beauclair, was a lead IT project manager who worked with a team that did technical evaluations of government contracts for the General Services Administration.
His employer outfitted his home office with all supplies and equipment necessary to do his job from home. His 2004 Telework Agreement with the GSA designated his home office as an “alternate duty station,” but defined his “official duty station” as GSA offices in Alexandria.
When he left his home in Jefferson, Md. , around 4:45 a.m. on Oct. 11, 2007, Beauclair was on his way to the Alexandria GSA offices for a scheduled training evaluation session.
Unfortunately for Beauclair, he apparently did not so much as turn on his home-office computer before he hit the road.
Beauclair was using his own car and was not reimbursed or otherwise compensated for his travel from Maryland to Virginia. The accident happened between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m., well before the official 8:00 a.m. start time for the work day.
Beauclair argued he was actually traveling from one worksite, his home office, to another worksite. He said his workday began when he made his “normal commute down the stairs to his basement office.”
But Senior Judge James C. Cacheris said Beauclair could not use his telecommuter status to extend the scope of his employment.
“Put simply, sometimes [his] home was his home and sometimes his home was his home-office,” Cacheris wrote. His home became his home office under Virginia respondeat superior law only when he was actually engaged in GSA business.
From the time Beauclair woke up on Oct. 11, until he left his home 45 minutes later, he did not perform any work assignments. He woke up, “got dressed, went to his basement home-office, gathered his papers, files and laptop computer, put them in his briefcase and got into his car” to travel to Alexandria, Cacheris wrote.
Under the judge’s reading of Virginia law in Feldheim v. Turner, the government was not required to step in and defend the p.i. suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
By Deborah Elkins