On November 25, 2019, the Commonwealth Court issued a decision addressing the effect that breaks in employment have on jurisdictional issues under Section 305.2(a) of the Act. In doing so, the Commonwealth Court held that, when a claimant has different periods of employment with the same employer, each period of employment is to be considered separate and distinct when addressing the extraterritorial provisions of Section 305.2(a) of the Act.
Specifically, in Silbaugh v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Penn Line Corporation), the claimant filed a Claim Petition alleging that he sustained disabling injuries while working in Virginia. The claimant argued that jurisdiction was proper in Pennsylvania because he lived in Pennsylvania, the employer’s headquarters were located in Pennsylvania, his contract to hire was made in Pennsylvania and that his employment was not principally localized in any state. Defendant disputed Pennsylvania jurisdiction and the WCJ bifurcated the issue.
Before the WCJ, the claimant testified that he worked for the employer for a total of four years at locations in Virginia, North Carolina and “wherever the employer” sent him. He testified that he initially worked for a two year period, took a one-year break, then returned to work for the employer in September of 2014, before the occurrence of his April 25, 2015 work injury. The claimant testified that he would meet his foreman in Pennsylvania every Sunday and drive to Virginia, where they would work through Thursday. He testified that after the work incident, received workers’ compensation benefits in Virginia. While the claimant testified that his work in September of 2014 through April of 2015 occurred mainly in Virginia, he testified that he could have been assigned to other locations and, about four or five times, he had to drive vehicles from the employer’s Virginia location to the Pennsylvania office and vice versa.
In response, the employer presented the testimony of the foreman who testified that the claimant’s work duties, after he regained employment with the employer in September of 2014, occurred only in Virginia, that the direction for the claimant’s work assignments came from the Virginia office but that the claimant’s paycheck and other human relations matters were handled by the Pennsylvania office.
The employer also presented testimony from the claims manager that indicated that, pursuant to the employer’s policy, “when an employee quits or is discharged and then rehired, the employee loses all of the employee’s prior seniority, has a new hire date, and is considered as staring again.” The claims manager noted that, when the claimant was rehired in September of 2014, he worked exclusively in Virginia.
The WCJ found that the claimant did not have jurisdiction in Pennsylvania since the claimant’s employment was principally localized in Virginia and, his “limited” activity in Pennsylvania was insufficient in establishing jurisdiction.
The claimant appealed the WCJ’s decision and WCAB affirmed. The claimant then petitioned the Commonwealth Court for review.
Before the Commonwealth Court, the claimant argued that jurisdiction was proper in Pennsylvania because a contract to hire was made in Pennsylvania and his employment was not principally localized in any state. He argued that, because he resided in Pennsylvania, was hired in Pennsylvania, left from Pennsylvania each week to work, and the employer’s headquarters were located in Pennsylvania, jurisdiction was proper.
In response, the employer argued that, after the claimant was rehired in September of 2014, his employment was exclusive to Virginia.
In analyzing the matter, the court looked at the requirements of Section 305.2(a) of the Act regarding the extraterritorial provision. In doing so, the court held that the claimant had “separate and distinct periods of employment” with the employer and only the most recent employment period could be considered for determining if jurisdiction was proper in Pennsylvania. The court noted, during his most recent period of employment, his work was exclusively performed in Virginia. The court noted that, while the claimant may have driven a vehicle from Virginia to Pennsylvania, and vice versa, it did not diminish the fact that the claimant regularly worked in Virginia, and that every assignment that he performed during the period of employment, prior to the work incident, occurred in Virginia. The court also noted that, while the employer may have been headquartered in Pennsylvania, the analysis under Section 305.2 of the Act must be focused on the claimant’s employment, not on the employer.
Since, during the claimant’s most recent period of employment prior to the work incident, he exclusively worked in Virginia, the court held that the claimant did not meet his burden of proving Pennsylvania jurisdiction pursuant to Section 305.2(a) of the Act.