Thursday, August 22, 2013

How to Analyze a Scope of Employment Case

Work Site Premises and the (non-)Travelling Employee
The Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act provides for wage loss benefits and medical expense reimbursements for work related injuries. A question of the extent of this liability arises when the employee is injured beyond the immediate work site or in the process of traveling to or from the work site.

The analysis of the scope and extent of responsibility of the Employer may involve several factors. What is the scope of the "business premises" or work site of the Employer?
Is the Employee a travelling worker?

This type of issue was reviewed by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in the decision authored by Judge Leavitt on July 26, 2013, at Mansfield Brothers Painting v. WCAB (German), No. 1858 C.D. 2012.

Factual & Procedural Background

Employee is a painter who received work assignments from his union hall.
Employer Mansfield was hired by the University of Pennsylvania to spackle and paint dorm rooms in the Quadrangle building, for every summer since 1976. The "Quad" is located in the Philadelphia campus, from 36th to 38th streets. The only entrance to the Quad building is on Spruce and 37th streets.
Employee commuted to work by train. The train station is at 34th and Market streets.

Employee painted at the Quad building, on a full-time basis, 7:00am to 3:30 pm. On the day of injury, the painters finished early and Employee left the building to walk to the train station with another co-worker. They crossed Spruce street and continued down a slate path on the campus. Employee tripped and fell on an uneven part of the slate path. This occurred approximately 150 feet from the Quad building.
[ these facts were provided in testimony of Employee, shop steward and co-worker].

Legal Issues Raised by these Facts:

1. was employee injured in the course of his employment?
2. was employee a "travelling" worker?
3. was employee injured as a result of a condition of his work premises?

Scope of Employment Analysis

An injury takes place, "in the course of employment" in 2 distinct situations.

First, an injury is compensable if it occurs while the employee is furthering the business or affairs of the employer. If furthering the business, it does not matter whether employee was on or off of the employer's premises.

Second, an injury is compensable if employee is injured as a result of a condition of the premises.
This rule has been extended to include a reasonable time before and after the work day.
See: Newhouse 1987; Slaugenhaupt 1977.
To prove a compensable work injury, as a result of the work premises, the employee must prove all of the following:
i. he was on the premises occupied or under the control of the employer or upon which the employer's business is being carried on;
ii. he is required to be present on the premises by the nature of his employment;
iii. he sustains injuries caused by a condition of the premises or by operation of the employer's business or affairs thereon. (Slaugenhaupt 376 A.2d at 273).

Was this painter on the "business premises" of the employer when he fell on that slate walk, after the work day and 150 feet from the building where he painted?

The "Business premises" of the employer is not necessarily limited to the building(s) controlled, occupied or owned by the employer!
"Premises" has been interpreted to include property that could be considered an integral part of the employer's business.
Property becomes integral to the employer's business when they require employees to use that property, in the performance of their assigned tasks.  A good example is a sidewalk leading to the work site, or a parking area.

Was the slate path a part of the business premises?

Remember, there was only one means of entrance to the Quad building.
Employee argued he was forced to take this route!
BUT he was 150 feet from the Quad building when he fell...

NO, the slate path was not part of the Employer's business premises.
The Employer was hired to paint in one building, the Quad building.
The Employer did not occupy, control or use, any part of the campus beyond that building.
Here, the work "premises" was limited to the Quad building.

When Employee fell... he had left the work site ... he crossed a public street ... he was 150 feet from the Quad building, on a walkway owned by the University.
At that point he was on the University's premises, not on his employer's premises.

Was the slate path integral to the Employer's work site, as a means of ingress and egress?

No.  Employee was no more than a member of the public using the sidewalk as a pedestrian, much like the claimant in Eberle v. Union Dental Co. (Pa. 1957).

Once employee left the Quad building, Employer had no interest or control over the route employee used to travel home. Like his co-workers, employee could travel by automobile or he could commute via train, the employer did not make any requirements. As such, the slate path was not integral to the employer's business and was not part of the employer's premises.

Was employee a "travelling" employer, such that this portion of the day remained within the scope of his employment?

NO.  Employee was not a travelling employee. He worked at a one fixed site of employment for the duration of the project. He travelled (commuted) to the one site assigned by his employer. The employer worked at one site on the campus. Employer did not assign employee to different sites.

Employee could have received other assignments from the union hall ... but he did not.
For this employer, he worked at one site and this assignment did not involve travel to other sites.
[distinguishing this employee from the nurse who travelled between different medical facilities and patients, in her temporary agency nursing assignments, as reported at:  Peterson v. WCAB (PRN Nursing Agency 1991).]

Practice Pointers:

1. Initial Claims investigation must include a thorough analysis of the facts surrounding the employment relationship, the work assignments, the site of the injury and details, such as travel requirements.

2. Scope of Employment cases can be very fact-specific, such that a few details may alter the outcome of the compensability analysis. When in doubt, interview the witnesses and employer representatives and secure their description of the work relationship and the actual business practices at the work site.

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