A frequent topic on our blog is whether a work injury has been suffered in Pennsylvania while the injured worker is in the “scope and course” of his or her employment. These issues often involve an injury taking place on the commute to or from work.
As a general rule, an injury taking place during the commute to or from work is not within the scope and course of employment, and, again generally, workers’ compensation benefits are not available in that situation. However, as with many rules, there are exceptions. These exceptions were at the heart of the case in Holler v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Tri Wire Engineering Solutions, Inc.)
In this case, the injured worker was a cable technician. He had a company vehicle, which was limited to company usage. The normal routine would be for him to check in at the main office each morning, get his assignments and equipment, and then spend the vast majority of his day on the road. On the fateful day, on his way in to the office, the injured worker was involved in a motor vehicle accident and was badly hurt.
A Claim Petition was filed, and litigated, before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ). After hearing the evidence, the WCJ denied the Claim Petition, finding that the injured worker was hurt during his commute to work, and was, therefore, not in the scope and course of his employment. Importantly, the WCJ found that the injured worker had a fixed place of employment. This was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB).
Upon further appeal, the Commonwealth Court observed that there are four exceptions to the general rule that injuries suffered in the commute to or from work are not covered by workers’ compensation:
“(1) the claimant’s employment contract includes transportation to and from work; (2) the claimant has no fixed place of work; (3) the claimant is on a special mission for employer; or (4) the special circumstances are such that the claimant was furthering the business of the employer.”
Noting that the injured worker only stopped into the main office to get his assignments and equipment, and performed his actual work out of the office, the Court found that the injured worker did NOT have a fixed place of employment. In such a case, the worker is called a “traveling employee,” and such an employee is within the scope and course of his or her job even during the commute. As such, the Court concluded, “Claimant’s injury, therefore, which occurred while Claimant was on his way to Employer’s facility, was sustained during the course and scope of his employment and is compensable under the Act.” The decision of the WCJ and WCAB, denying the Claim Petition was reversed.