In a unanimous Decision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in an Opinion written by Justice Munday, dated November 17, 2021, Jonathan Peters v. WCAB (Cintas Corp.) defined the standard for injured traveling employees (an employee with no fixed place of work) under the Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Act. They noted that courts have consistently held and applied a presumption: “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 employer’s business at the time of injury unless the employer can rebut the presumption by showing that the employee’s action 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‘”. (Roman vs. Workmen’s Comp Appeal Bd. (Dep’t of Envtl. Res.), 616 A.2d 128, 130 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992))
The underlying facts are that Claimant, Jonathan Peters, a salesman for Cintas Corp, was a traveling employee. Part of his days were spent at the company’s Allentown office, and the rest of the time he traveled to meet with potential clients. On February 27, 2015, after work, he attended an Employer sponsored event at the Tilted Kilt in Allentown. To get there, he had to pass the exit for his home. It was a celebration, that was held regularly, for sales blitzes. There was a dispute in the case about whether the meeting was voluntary or mandatory. On the way home from the event, he was in a car accident and injured.
Claimant filed a Claim Petition and the case was bifurcated on the issue of whether the injured was in the course and scope of employment. The Workers’ Compensation Judge ultimately denied the Claim Petition finding that Claimant was not furthering the interests of the Employer at the time of the accident and while some work topics were discussed at the Tilted Kilt, that doesn’t make it a business meeting, even if personal relationships were being cultivated. The WCJ rejected Claimant’s testimony that it was a mandatory meeting/gathering.
The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board affirmed and Claimant appeal to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania who, incredibly, got hung up on the idea that Claimant had to pass the exit for his home on the way to the Tilted Kilt, and therefore, that ended his homeward trip, deducting that he was no longer in the course and scope of employment after that point. They upheld the denial of the Claim Petition.
Claimant appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (by filing a petition for allowance of appeal) who underscored the presumption, noted above, and applying this to the facts at hand, found that Claimant, by attending the Employer sponsored event after work, didn’t remove himself from his employment because the act of attending this event was not foreign to his employment- in fact, these sales blitz celebrations were regular. The Court acknowledged that the WCJ found the event to be social and voluntary but the Supreme Court found that this doesn’t mean the event wasn’t work-related as it fostered personal relationships and morale. Justice Mundy noted that the fact that Claimant passed his home doesn’t mean he abandoned his employment- what if he had to pass the exit for his home during the day traveling to sales meetings- that doesn’t mean he’s not in the course of his employment merely because he passed his home exit.
This is an outstanding Opinion, well reasoned, and will have far-reaching effects for injured workers in an increasingly mobile workforce! Query- what actions would be considered so foreign to and removed from his usual employment such that the Employer could have shown an abdonment prior to the accident? Perhaps if Claimant then stopped at a friend’s house after the Tilted Kilt to hang out and watch a movie- this could be deemed foreign enough to be an abandonment. Note, the case got remanded as there was a dispute about whether Claimant took any other actions after leaving the Tillted Kilt, and prior to the accident.
Here is a link to the Opinion Peters vs. WCAB