Sometimes the dispute in the litigation of a Claim Petition in Pennsylvania is a medical one – whether the injury was caused by the work duties (often seen in a repetitive trauma case, like carpal tunnel syndrome, in a heart attack case, or when degenerative changes are aggravated by work). Other times, though the dispute is whether the injury took place within the “scope and course” of employment. Interestingly, though this is occasionally a threshold issue in a workers’ comp case in PA, the words “scope and course” do not even appear in the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act – the entire concept of “scope and course” is derived from decisions by the appellate courts in PA.
We have seen cases on this topic when an employee takes a “break” from his or her actual job duties. Another time the concept of scope and course becomes important is when the employee is injury in the employer’s parking lot, before or after his or her shift. Such a case was recently decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Ace Wire Spring and Form Company v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board
Here, the employee arrived at the employer’s parking lot around 6:30 am for his 8:00 am shift. The employee testified he arrived this early to pick up his clean uniforms and put them in his car (so he did not forget to do so at the end of the day) and to avoid traffic, so that he would not be late. While walking back to the building after putting the clean uniforms in his car, the employee slipped on ice and fell, striking his head. He subsequently suffered a stroke from bleeding in his brain, and was rendered disabled.
The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found the injured worker more credible than the witnesses offered by the employer, and granted the Claim Petition, finding that the injured worker was in the scope and course of his employment at the time of the injury. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) affirmed.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania also affirmed. The Court noted that the issue of whether an injury is within the scope and course of employment in a parking lot case depends on the facts in each situation. Generally, an employee is expected to be on the employer’s premises a “reasonable” time before and after his or her shift. The WCJ, said the Court, is the one who makes the Findings of Fact, and those findings support this being in the scope of the employee’s job. The argument raised by the employer, that it was unreasonable for the employee to be 90 minutes early for his shift, was rejected. Under the facts as found by the WCJ, the employee was “furthering the interests of his employer” by being present at that time. What is a “reasonable” time to be on an employer’s premises before or after a shift will depend on the facts in each case, stressed the Court.