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Pennsylvania Course and Scope: A Follow-Up to the Warning Against the Geography Rule

Pennsylvania
September 12, 2019
January 23, 2020
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As previously noted, the Supreme Court has identified that there are issues with the Commonwealth Court’s July 2019 opinion in Peters v. WCAB (Cintas). Essentially, disregarding the breadth of caselaw on the topic of course and scope of employment, the court held that because claimant, a traveling employee, had passed his home on his way to a work-sponsored happy hour, he was not within the course and scope of employment.  In crafting its holding, the court seemed to establish a bright-line rule based upon geography. This author cautioned, in the August 8, 2019 blog, that relying on this “geography rule” was dangerous, given the extensive factual and legal analysis usually required in course and scope of employment cases.

The Supreme Court granted further appeal to decide two issues, in the context of the expansive presumption, that traveling employees are in the course and scope of employment:

  1. What constitutes an abandonment of employment such that a traveling employee is not entitled to benefits under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act; and
  2. Is an injury compensable under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act when an employee is injured while returning home after attending a work-sponsored social event?

These issues framed by the Supreme Court, for further argument, are substantially more akin to the traditional analysis of course and scope of employment utilized in these types of cases.  Previously, the courts have given traveling employees wide latitude in activities falling within the course and scope of employment if the claimant is a traveling employee.   There have been many cases that already discuss the first issue – abandonment – in the context of a traveling employee.

In Maher v. Hallmark Cards, Inc., a traveling salesman finished setting his display up at a convention, after which, him and others went to the hotel across the street for drinks.  After hours of drinks, he left the hotel.  An hour later, he was in a motor vehicle accident and was killed.  This was deemed to be a compensable injury because his activities were not a substantial deviation from his work activities as a traveling employee, and thus, did not constitute abandonment.

This principle is in stark contrast to the harsher, no liability “coming and going” rule which bars compensability for injuries occurring on the way to or from work.  This has been true even in the context of social events.  In Brown v. WCAB (Liken Empl. Nursing Servs.), the court denied benefits for an employee who was injured when crossing a street after leaving her employer’s Christmas party, which was held on the employer’s premises.

If the court utilizes the liberal analysis erring on the side of compensability for traveling employees in the context of a classic coming and going case, it could lead to different results for different classes of employees who attend work-sponsored social events.