The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued a unanimous Opinion on November 17, 2021 and for the first time defined the standards that apply under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act when a traveling employee is injured. In the case of Peters v. WCAB (Cintas Corporation), the Supreme Court specifically addressed the traveling employee doctrine and for the first time granted review to consider the contours of a traveling employee’s course of employment.
Claimant worked as a uniform sales representative and in this position worked half-days in Employer’s branch office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and traveled the remainder of those days, as well as Thursdays and Fridays, to meet with, and present products to, potential customers. Following his last sales appointment, Claimant attended an Employer-sponsored event at a local pub. After leaving the event, Claimant was in a motor vehicle accident and sustained injuries. Claimant filed a Claim Petition seeking both partial disability and total disability benefits. Employer filed an Answer specifically denying that Claimant was in the course of his employment at the time of the motor vehicle accident. The WCJ denied the Claim Petition and rejected Claimant’s representations that the event was mandatory and that work performed during a sales blitz was discussed. The WCJ concluded that Claimant failed to demonstrate that he was acting in furtherance of Employer’s business or affairs at the time of the motor vehicle accident. Claimant appealed and the WCAB affirmed the WCJ Decision. Claimant then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed the WCAB’s decision. Claimant filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Claimant advocates that he is a traveling employee and, as such, is entitled to a presumption that he was in the “course of his employment” at the time of the motor vehicle accident. Essentially, Claimant maintained that a traveling employee’s attendance at a work sponsored social event does not break the continuum of employment. The Supreme Court decided to liberally construe the phrase “course of employment” to effectuate the humanitarian purpose of the Act and provide a broader scope of employment for traveling employees than stationary employees. In the Opinion, Justice Mundy adopted the “traveling employee” doctrine. This doctrine presumes that a traveling employee, injured after setting out on the business of his employer, is furthering the employer’s business at the time of the injury. To rebut the presumption, an employer must prove that the claimant’s actions were so foreign to and removed from his usual employment that they constitute an abandonment of that employment. Under the facts of this case, the Supreme Court could not conclude that Claimant’s action in attending a regularly held type of event constituted an act so foreign to and removed from his regular employment to consider it abandonment of employment. The Supreme Court emphasized that Employer hosted and sponsored the event and the event benefited the Employer by fostering relationships and improving morale.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court vacated the Order of the Commonwealth Court affirming the denial of Claimant’s Claim Petition and ordered a remand back to the WCJ with specific instructions to make additional findings and conclusions concerning the “abandonment of employment” issue. This Order from the Supreme Court is important since for the first time, it analyzes the traveling employee doctrine and clarifies the burdens of proof and evidence necessary from the injured worker and Employer. This Order must be taken into consideration by many Pennsylvania Employers as they transition to a more mobile workforce to determine potential liability for work-related injuries of employees.
Zachary M. Rubinich is a partner in our Philadelphia office. He focuses his practice on the defense of insurance carriers, self-insured entities and third-party administrators against workers’ compensation claims in Pennsylvania. Based on his extensive experience, the Pennsylvania Bar Association Workers’ Compensation Law Section has certified him as Specialist in the practice of workers’ compensation law Zach has handled all aspects of litigation before workers’ compensation judges, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, the Commonwealth Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Zach has been appointed to the following American Bar Association Tort Trial and Insurance Practice (TIPS) leadership positions: Vice-Chair of the Litigation and Trial Practice Committee; Vice-Chair of the Appellate Advocacy Committee; member of the Ethics and Professionalism Standing Committee; and member of the CLE Board Committee. He is the Past Chair of the American Bar Association’s Tort Trial and Insurance Practice (TIPS) Workers’ Compensation and Employers’ Liability Law Committee from 2018-2019. He served as Vice-Chair of this committee for 2015-2016, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018. In addition, Zach served as Vice-Chair of the 2017-2018 American Bar Association Standing Committee for Diversity and Inclusion. Zach has been rated AV Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell for the eighth consecutive year in 2020. He has been selected as a 2021 Pennsylvania Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers. He was selected as a Pennsylvania Rising Star by Super Lawyers from 2010 to 2014. He was selected as an International Advisory Experts (IAE) Award recipient in 2019 for his accomplishments as a workers’ compensation attorney in Pennsylvania. In addition, he has been selected as a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Class of 2020.
Zach can be reached directly at: (215) 575-4340 • firstname.lastname@example.org