Traveling Employee Injured in Car Crash after Meeting Co-Workers for Happy Hour: Is That Covered by Workers’ Compensation?
When is a traveling employee traveling for pleasure, as opposed to business? That was the central issue in a recent workers’ compensation case before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
Celebration with Co-Workers
In Peters v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Cintas Corporation), a salesman’s job duties entailed spending time in the field to meet with potential clients as well as performing job functions at his employer’s office and at his home, when necessary.
After a full sales day in the field, the salesman drove from his last appointment to attend a celebration with co-workers at a bar. On the way, he passed the exit for his home and continued to drive to the bar. While driving home from the celebration, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident from which he sustained multiple injuries.
The salesman applied for workers’ compensation benefits. However, the workers’ compensation judge denied his claim, concluding that the salesman failed to meet his burden of proving that he was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The salesman appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, which affirmed the judge’s decision. He then appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
As we have noted in previous blogs, workers’ compensation claims rise and fall on whether an employee is acting within the course and scope of his or her employment. What constitutes “course and scope of employment” is broader for traveling employees than for stationary employees, and it includes driving to any appointment for the employer.
Pennsylvania law provides that a traveling employee is entitled to a legal presumption that he or she is in the course and scope of employment when traveling to or from work. To rebut this presumption, the employer must establish that the employee’s actions at the time of the accident were “so foreign to and removed from” his or her usual employment that those actions constituted abandonment of employment.
In ruling in favor of the employer, the Commonwealth Court emphasized that the salesman drove past the exit for his home when he elected to go to happy hour with his co-workers.
“The homeward trip” had ended before [the salesman] traveled to [the bar]. [The salesman] clearly had the option of avoiding any hazards simply by choosing to take the exit home as opposed to bypassing his exit to attend happy hour. Under the circumstances, [the salesman’s] travel from the bar to his home cannot be considered in the course and scope of his employment.
The court additionally noted that the workers’ compensation judge had determined that the meeting at the bar was not furthering the interest of the employer, but rather was a social gathering.
Unfortunately, the salesman will not receive workers’ compensation benefits.
We do note, however, that the fact that the salesman had “completed his homeward travel before attending happy hour” was critical to the court’s decision. There is considerable legal precedent in Pennsylvania for awarding workers’ compensation benefits to traveling employees who are injured after making stops at the end of their workday, but who are not in the vicinity of their home, where the homeward trip is still a necessary part of their business excursion.
As always, if you are injured in an accident that may be work-related, we recommend that you consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can ensure that you receive all benefits to which you are legally entitled.