Do I have to be clocked in for the FELA to apply?

by Jon Jones, Associate

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”) (45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60) requires the railroad to provide employees with reasonably safe working conditions. While some may think this only applies to a worker if injured while clocked in at their job, but in fact, the scope of the FELA extends to some injuries that occur “off the clock.”

Railroad workers are protected while engaged in activities incidental to their job duties, even if technically off the clock. Common examples of times when an employee is off the clock but still protected by the FELA include:

  • when lodging at a company-assigned hotel during a work trip;
  • when being transported by a vehicle arranged by the railroad to assigned lodging or to/from a company-assigned work site; or
  • when on company property before or within a reasonable time after the workday is over, such as walking to a depot from a vehicle that was parked in a company parking lot.

For example, a railroad can be held liable for injuries caused by unsafe conditions at a hotel where an employee is staying for work purposes, or careless driving by the driver of a company-hired transport van—even if the employee is injured when he or she is not “clocked in.”

During these times, an employee is still engaged in activity necessarily incidental and sufficiently related to his or her job duties to be considered within the scope of his or her employment. For example, when employees on a work trip are using lodging provided by the railroad during a layover, it is for the purpose of preparing themselves for the next day of work, including rest and recuperation. Accordingly, they are still acting within the scope of their employment and therefore covered by the FELA. Courts have distinguished between this type of covered activity and non-work activities undertaken for a private purpose, like going for a recreational jog or walking to a movie theater, which would not be covered by the FELA.

In short, you should not automatically assume you cannot be compensated for an injury just because it occurs before or after you clock out. The important issue is whether you were engaged in an activity sufficiently related to your railroad work such that it is considered to be within the scope of employment. If you are injured while doing an activity related to your work or an activity requested or controlled by the railroad, you may be entitled to compensation under the FELA.

If you are injured but unsure whether your injury is covered by the FELA, it is important that you consult with an experienced Railroad Injury attorney who can help you assess whether you have a claim.

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