Scope of Employment in Workers’ Compensation Cases

WorkersCompClaimA Pennsylvania court recently ruled that a man was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits after his co-worker’s dog bit him while the man was on a smoke break. Employers that lawfully deny workers’ compensation benefits to their employees usually do so for one of two reasons: (1) improper or untimely filing of required workers’ compensation documents, or (2) if the employee was not acting in the scope of his employment when he was injured. The Pennsylvania court found that even though the man was taking a break, this was a foreseeable aspect of his scope of employment and the employer was required to pay workers’ compensation benefits to the injured employee.

Scope of Employment

In order to have a valid workers’ compensation case under Pennsylvania law, the employee must have been acting within “the course and scope of his employment” at the time of the alleged injury or accident. This means that the employee was doing something he is required to do by virtue of his daily tasks, something that his employer told him directly to do, or was doing something in a manner that could be reasonably foreseen by the employer (i.e. bathroom breaks, making coffee).

Satisfying this test can be extremely complicated. Consider the following examples: a company driver that stops to get gas, the person who goes for a walk on their lunch break and gets hit by a car, the woman who, on her way back to work from another work-related event, stops at the pharmacy and is injured – all of these things may be considered either in or out of the scope of employment, depending on the circumstances.

Under the law, geographic departures that may cause someone to fall outside the scope of their employment come down to one of two categories: frolic or detour. A frolic is an event that is outside the scope of employment; personal errands, tasks not authorized or not permitted while at work, or going somewhere without explicit instruction may all be considered frolics. Detours, on the other hand, are minor deviations from employer’s instructions, and usually will keep the action within the scope of employment. These distinctions are helpful in considering cases such as the dog bite incident with the cook—there was a designated “regular smoke break area,” near an ashtray supplied by the company suggesting that the management knew people came there to smoke. The fact that the dog was on the premises is another issue, but it should be clear that in many cases a break could be considered something within the scope of employment, since it is reasonable for an employer to know that an employee might take a smoke break.

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

Understanding the scope of employment and how to fill out your workers’ compensation paperwork properly will greatly benefit your recovery. When simple things such as missing filing deadlines or failing to see your employer-approved physician may bar you from receiving benefits, it is critical to know that your paperwork is being done correctly and timely the first time. Hiring experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Solnick & Associates, LLC is the first step in making sure you receive the benefits you are entitled to by law. Contact us today.