Ordinarily, when an employee is commuting to, or from, work in Pennsylvania, he or she is not in the course of employment. This is known in the PA workers’ comp community as “The Going and Coming Rule.” Thus, if the employee is injured while commuting, usually the injured worker is not entitled to PA workers’ compensation benefits. Like every rule, however, there are exceptions.
Recently, in Leisure Line v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Walker), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania addressed some of these exceptions. While working as a bus driver for Leisure Line, Mr. Walker commuted from his Delaware home to the bus depot in Coatesville, PA. From the depot, Mr. Walker would drive the bus to and from Atlantic City, NJ. On his way from his home to Coatesville one day, Mr. Walker was injured in a motor vehicle accident.
In asserting that his commute was an exception to the usual rule, and that he was eligible for benefits under the PA Workers’ Compensation Act, Claimant had two main assertions – that he was paid for his travel to Coatesville; and, that his willingness to accept the “Coatesville Run,” an unpopular job assignment, was a “special circumstance” which “furthered his employer’s business.”
The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) agreed that the collective bargaining agreement provided travel expense to Mr. Walker for his commute to Pennsylvania, and that, therefore, Mr. Walker was in the scope and course of his employment at the time of the injury. As such, the WCJ granted the Claim Petition and awarded workers’ comp benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) affirmed the decision of the WCJ, though the WCAB said the reason was because Mr. Walker benefited his employer by accepting the unpopular run, not because of the travel expenses.
Unfortunately for Mr. Walker, the Commonwealth Court of PA disagreed with the reasoning of both the WCJ and the WCAB, and reversed, denying the Claim Petition. As to the travel expenses for getting to the depot in PA, the Court held that since the travel reimbursement was a flat rate (for all drivers), and was not dependent on the time or distance in the commute, and the employer did not control the “means of transportation,” the exception to “The Going and Coming Rule” was not met.
Further, the Court held that accepting an unpopular job location or assignment does not rise to the level of “special circumstances” required for this exception to the rule. The Court felt that having an employee show up at work (even for an unattractive job or at an unappealing job location) is a “universal” circumstance, expected by every employer in Pennsylvania, as opposed to a “special” one.