With more and more employees switching to a mobile working environment, it is important to understand your rights when it comes to “the traveling employee” rule of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.

Recently, in a unanimous decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for the first time clarified the standards that apply under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act when a traveling employee is injured. The decision involved a case involving an employee who got injured in a motor vehicle accident when traveling home from an employer-sponsored party.

Traveling Employee Case Background

The claimant, Jonathan Peters, was a full-time employee of Cintas Corporation who worked part of the week in the Allentown branch office but spent the most of his time meeting with clients in the region. Peters was injured in a motor vehicle on his way home from attending an employer-sponsored event. He petitioned for partial disability benefits for a few months then total disability benefits but the employer denied that Peters was in the course of his employment at the time of the accident. A Workers’ Compensation Judge denied his petition, but Peters appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and ultimately appealed to The Commonwealth Court then to the PA Supreme Court.

The Previous Standards for Traveling Employees

Until this new case, the Workers’ Compensation Act of Pennsylvania categorized employees into two distinct ways, depending on whether the employee is a stationary or traveling employee. With respect to traveling employees, the appellate courts of Pennsylvania have consistently applied the presumption that “when a traveling employee is injured after setting out on the business of his (or her) employer, it is presumed that he (or she) was furthering the employer’s business at the time of the injury” unless an employer rebuts by showing that the employee’s actions, at some point prior to the injury, “were so foreign to and removed from his (or her) usual employment that they constitute an abandonment of that employment.”

The Newly Defined Standards for Traveling Employees

This recent PA Supreme Court decision clarified what constitutes “course of employment” and that relied in part on what is referred to as the “humanitarian purpose of the Act.” During the travels of a traveling employee, the employee is subject to risks that a stationary employee is not. The Court stated that the “hazards of travel become the hazards of employment” and that the traveling employee must have a broader scope of employment. The Court explained that a traveling employee must be considered in the course of his or her employment during the entirety of work-related travel including social events sponsored by the employer. Even if work isn’t discussed at the event and the event is social by nature, the event still benefits the employer by fostering relationships and improving morale and is therefore furthering the business of the employer.

These cases are very fact specific and require analysis by an experienced workers compensation attorney.

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