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If you injure yourself right before your shift begins while shopping with your employee discount at the store where you work, don’t expect to receive any workers’ compensation benefits, a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court panel has ruled. Morris v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board stems from an August 1998 knee injury a Wal-Mart employee suffered while helping her daughters shop for school supplies at the Fairless Hills, Pa., store where she was employed. The accident occurred shortly before her shift was to start. In arguing that her injury was work-related, Carolyn Morris cited the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 1999 decision in Hoffman v. WCAB, in which the claimant was awarded workers’ comp benefits for an injury that occurred when she stopped by her place of employment on her day off to pick up her paycheck. The Hoffman court concluded that since that method of collecting pay had been approved by the employer, the claimant had been acting in the scope of her employment when she was injured. But the panel in Morris rejected the argument that making use of an employee discount is comparable to picking up a paycheck. “[Morris] asserts that her employee discount was also a fundamental aspect of her employment,” Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer wrote in an opinion filed Wednesday. “We disagree. Payment of salary is a legal obligation on the part of an employer. Providing an employee discount is not; rather, a discount is only a perquisite of employment. Therefore, an injury sustained by an employee collecting wages under an employer-designated method is distinguishable from an injury incurred by an employee who is using an employee discount while shopping during her non-work hours. We conclude that [Morris], while shopping, was not functioning as an employee who was furthering [Wal-Mart's] business; rather, she was only a member of the general public.” Cohn Jubelirer was joined by Judges Doris A. Smith-Ribner and Dan Pellegrini. According to the opinion, Morris was planning to start her evening shift right after helping her daughters pick out their school supplies. The workers’ comp judge found that she had not demonstrated a work-related injury. “The WCJ determined that claimant was not doing anything to further employer’s business at the time she fell,” Cohn Jubelirer wrote. On appeal, the WCAB affirmed. Under Pennsylvania precedent, Cohn Jubelirer noted, an employee injured while not specifically on the job can still be eligible for benefits if he or she is on the employment premises when the accident occurs, is required by the nature of his or her employment to be on the premises and suffers an injury that is related to the workplace’s condition or the nature of the work performed there. After concluding that Hoffman is not controlling in Morris, the panel addressed Morris’ contention that taking advantage of Wal-Mart’s employee discount helps enhance its work force. “The assertion that claimant’s use of this benefit may ‘enhance the work force,’ as she argues, is too attenuated a reason to find that she was acting within the course and scope of her employment,” Cohn Jubelirer wrote. She also called attention to the fact that Morris could have gone to any Wal-Mart and used her employee discount. “In fact, nothing relative to her work required claimant to shop only at an employer-owned store or to use her employee discount at all,” she continued. Morris’ attorney was Philadelphia solo practitioner Robert Land. Land said he is disappointed the panel chose to affirm, but declined to comment further as he has not had the chance to discuss the decision with his client. Wal-Mart was represented by Patrice Toland of Post & Schell. She did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

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