Samuel H. Pond and Andrew F. Ruder ()
In order to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, an employee must be injured while in the course and scope of his or her employment. Considering the diversity of jobs within the national economy, it may be difficult at times to determine whether an employee was actually injured on the job.
Under Pennsylvania law, even the most loyal employees can be one wrong move away from being denied benefits based on a course and scope defense. Whether you are commuting to work or simply attending a work-related social gathering, this article will provide a basic understanding of when the workday begins and ends as it pertains to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.
When analyzing whether a work injury is compensable under the act, there are two fundamental principles that must be initially considered. First, if the injured worker is on the employer’s premises at the time of injury, then the worker’s presence must be required by the nature of the job and the injury must result from the condition of the premises or by operation of the employer’s business.
On the other hand, when an injured worker is not on the employer’s premises at the time of injury, then the injury may be considered within the course and scope of employment only if it can be proven that the employee was engaged in the furtherance of the employer’s business or affairs.
The employer’s premises encompasses more than just the office or building where the worker performs his or her job duties. Typically, once an employee is on the employer’s parking lot, whether entering work, leaving work or merely heading to lunch during break, an injury that occurs would likely be compensable, because these actions are considered a necessary part of employment.
In one bizarre circumstance, however, an employee who was struck by lightning and killed while on his motorcycle in the employer’s parking lot was not considered to be in the course and scope of his employment because the death was unrelated to the condition of the premises or the operation of the employer’s business. That case was Anzese v. Workmen’s Compensation Appeal Board (Strick), 385 A.2d 625 (1978).
Additionally, applicants who are on the employer’s premises for an interview must be careful and aware of their surroundings, because they are not yet considered employees under the act, even if they ultimately receive a job offer by the employer, as in Moberg v. WCAB (Twining Village), 995 A.2d 385 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010).
While the employee’s presence must be required by the nature of the job at the time of injury, there is some leniency given to workers who arrive at work slightly before their shift begins and those who hang around the premises for a short period of time after their shift ends. For example, after being struck by a co-worker’s vehicle while sleeping in his car approximately 30 minutes before his shift was scheduled to begin, the court found that an employee’s injuries were compensable under the act in Kulik v. Mash, 982 A.2d 85 (Pa.Super. 2009).
As long as the injured worker is present on the employer’s premises at a reasonable time either before or after the work period and does not engage in activities unrelated to work, such as shopping or horseplay, an argument can be made that the injury is work-related.
If an employee commutes to work, an injury sustained prior to entering the employer’s premises is generally not considered in the course and scope of employment, as in Peterson v. WCAB (PRN Nursing Agency), 597 A.2d 1116 (Pa. 1991).
However, there are a few exceptions. First, employees who have no fixed place of work and are frequently assigned to different job sites may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits when injured during their commute.
Second, if an employee’s contract includes transportation to and from work, an injury sustained while traveling may be compensable if it can be shown that the employer controlled or provided the transportation and the travel allowance was related to the expense and time involved in the commute.
Last, if an employee is injured while on a special mission or assignment for the employer, such as attending an event or meeting that was not regularly held, those injuries may be covered under the act, entitling the employee to workers’ compensation benefits.
Additionally, throughout the year, it is common for employers to hold social gatherings for their employees. Since these events generally enhance the employer’s business, the injuries sustained during company-sponsored sporting events, social events, including picnics and holiday parties, and workouts at employer-run gyms are typically considered in the course and scope of employment. Nevertheless, injuries that are sustained while attending an event that may be related to work but is not sponsored by the employer are most likely not covered by the act.
As one can see, the difference between sustaining a compensable work-related injury and not comes down to every last detail. In the realm of workers’ compensation, every fact is significant and each case will stand or fall on the specific fact pattern.
Samuel H. Pond is the managing partner of the workers’ compensation and Social Security disability law firm Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano. Andrew F. Ruder is an associate with the firm and concentrates his practice in the area of workers’ compensation litigation.