A topic often litigated in the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation system is whether an injured worker was within the scope and course of his or her employment at the time of the incident. Accordingly, this is a topic that is no stranger to this blog. Though this area continues to depend drastically on the facts within each case, a recent decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania does shed some additional guidance on such cases.
In Henderson v. WP Ventures, Inc. (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board), a custodian was waiting to be able to perform his usual tasks. He was being prevented from doing so by the facility being cleaned and ventilated after a roof leak. Taking advantage of his down time, the injured worker stepped out for a cigarette and to grab a sandwich from a nearby shop. While outside of the facility, the injured worker fell and hurt his head.
A Claim Petition was filed, and litigated, before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ). The injured worker testified that if his supervisor was not around (as was the case that day), he was permitted to take limited breaks without express permission when there was idle time. This was not disputed by the employer. After hearing the evidence, the WCJ granted the Claim Petition. Specifically, the WCJ found, “Claimant was taking a cigarette break when he slipped and fell on the walkway outside of the building in which he was working, and this was a minor deviation from employment that would fall under the personal comfort doctrine.”