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A Not So Happy Hour for Traveling Employees

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Scope, Course of Employment Key to Whether Accidents Are Compensable

John Draskovic is a senior partner with MacDonald, Illig Attorneys, a member of the firm’s Litigation and Labor Departments, and chairman of the firm’s Workers’ Compensation Group.

For an injury to be compensable under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act, it must occur within the course and scope of employment. What constitutes the course and scope of employment is broader for traveling employees than for stationary employees. When determining whether a worker is a traveling employee, consideration is given to whether the employee’s job involved travel, whether the employee works on the employer’s premises or whether the employee has no fixed place of work.

Traveling employees are presumed to be in the course and scope of employment when traveling to or from work. To rebut this presumption, the employer must show the employee’s actions at the time of the injury were so foreign to and removed from usual employment that it constituted
abandonment of employment.

Recently, the Commonwealth Court drew a very fine, but important, distinction in determining whether a traveling employee was in the course and scope of employment. Peters v. WCAB (Cintas Corp.), 214 A.2d 738 (Pa.
Commw. 7/18/19).

In Cintas, the employee was required to work at the company’s office in Allentown during a portion of the week and spend the remainder of the week calling on customers. On the day of his injury, the employee finished his last appointment and drove back to Allentown to attend a company sponsored celebration at a local restaurant. The employee drove past the exit for his home and continued toward the restaurant. After leaving the restaurant and while driving home, he was involved in an accident.

The employee claimed the accident occurred while in the course and scope of his employment as a traveling employee on his way home from a work-sponsored event. The employer argued the employee made a departure from his employment by driving past his home and attending the event. The judge denied the Claim Petition, concluding the employee failed to meet his burden of proving he was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The Appeal Board affirmed and, in July 2019, the Commonwealth Court also affirmed the denial.

The Court distinguished the Cintas case from the many similar prior cases awarding benefits to traveling employees by seizing upon the single fact that the employee had traveled past the exit for his home and traveled on to the social event. The Court held that the employee’s homeward trip “ended” before he attended the nonmandatory social event. Thus, he was outside the course and scope of his employment when the injury occurred. Moreover, the employee was not furthering the interests of his employer by attending the social event. Therefore, travel from the event to home was not within the course and scope of employment.

This fine distinction drawn by the Court is not typical nor in keeping with the requirement that the Act should be liberally interpreted in favor of an injured employee. Nonetheless, the Cintas case should be considered when interpreting future claims involving traveling employees.

The Cintas case highlights the critical importance of gathering and preserving all facts surrounding work injuries. The outcome would have been quite different if the employee’s specific route of travel was not determined and documented at the time of the injury. If the location of the social event was within an alternative route to the claimant’s home vicinity, benefits likely would have been awarded. Traveling employees present a variety of issues for employers, and specific rules regarding conduct and documentation of travel details can be critical for work-related injuries, as
well as matters of productivity, safety and regulatory compliance.

For more information, contact John Draskovic at 814/870-7653 or jdraskovic@mijb.com.