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PA Appellate Court Finds that You’re “At Work” While on Your Commute

April 8, 2022

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Bark-v.-Sooner-Steel-LLC.pdf">Bark v. Sooner Steel LLC</a>,</em> the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that a worker was acting within the course and scope of his employment while commuting home from work. The court emphasized that whether someone is acting within the course and scope of his or her employment is a fact specific inquiry.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em>Bark</em>, the claimant suffered severe injuries in a motor vehicle accident that occurred while he was returning home from work. Before the accident, the claimant, Mr. Bark, and his employer had agreed that he would be paid for the time he worked, as well as the commute. There was, however, no written contract. After the incident, Mr. Bark sought workers’ compensation benefits. The workers’ compensation board denied the claim, finding that the claimant was not acting within the scope of his employment when the incident occurred.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Under Pennsylvania law, commuting to and from work is not considered to be within the course and scope of one’s employment (commonly referred to as the “coming and going” rule). There are limited exceptions though. The exceptions are: (1) the employment contract includes transportation to and/or from work; (2) the claimant has no fixed place of work; (3) the claimant is on a “special assignment or mission” for the employer; or (4) special circumstances are such that the claimant was furthering the business of the employer. Each case is extremely fact intensive.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Ultimately, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (an appellate tribunal), found that Mr. Bark was acting within the course and scope of his employment when the incident occurred. The court relied on the “humanitarian nature” of the Act. Further, it found that “course of employment” should be broadly construed when the employee is a traveling employee—as Mr. Bark was. Similarly, “course of employment” is broadly construed when there is no fixed place of work. Ultimately, the court determined that Mr. Bark suffered his injuries when while in the “course and scope” of his employment.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to John Lang for his contribution to this article. Should you wish to discuss, please feel free to contact <a href="mailto:tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Tom Bracken</a>.</p>
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