The United States has been going through a transition towards options for remote and hybrid work environments. For many, this has led to opportunities for career change, flexibility in schedule, and balancing of professional and personal life. It has also brought up questions as to when certain employees are on-the-clock, in the scope of work, and traveling to or from an employer-sponsored event.
In order to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, an employee must prove that he was in the “course and scope” of employment when he was injured. Recognizing that that there are inherent differences between employees who work at a fixed site and an employee who travels as part of their work, such as a traveling salesman, or a home health care aide, the courts have interpreted what constitutes the “course and scope” of employment much broader for traveling employees than stationary employees.
Typically, an employee injured on his or her way to or from work are not considered in the course and scope of employees. However, different rules may apply in the course of a traveling employee.
The Traveling Employee Doctrine provides that when employees are injured while traveling for business duties on behalf of their employers, it is presumed that they are furthering the employer’s business at the time of the injury and therefor are considered in the course and scope of employment. In these instances, an employer has the burden of rebutting that presumption. In order to meet the burden in each case, the employer must prove that the injured employee’s actions were so foreign from their usual duties of employment they should be considered an abandonment of that employment.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently analyzed the Traveling Employee Doctrine; particularly, how it applies to employer-sponsored social gatherings. Considering our currently evolving work culture, there are many reasons remote and hybrid workers may be traveling during the course of their employment. As more companies and employers are moving toward hybrid or entirely remote work environments, there are more work-sponsored happy hours, BBQs, or similar events, particularly during the summer months. Restrictions have been lifted, and there are more meet ups and social gatherings being scheduled to boost company morale and maintain familiarity among employees. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s analysis of the Traveling Employee Doctrine takes on an ever more important role.
In the Supreme Courts’ recent decision, the employee was a traveling salesperson who spent the first half of Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays in their employer’s office. In the afternoons, as well as on Thursdays and Fridays, they would meet with and present products to potential clients across a region in the state. On the day in question the employee was engaged in sales appointments off the employer’s premises. Following his last sales appointment, he attended an employer sponsored event at a pub. After leaving the pub, on his way home, he was injured in a motor vehicle accident.
The court had to determine whether the employee was within the course and scope of employment. It determined that the general rule is employees who are traveling in the course of their work-related duties are presumed to be within the scope of employment when attending an employer-sponsored event. This includes any employees who are departing from that work-related event, as long as they did not abandon their employment prior to the accident.
The Court determined that the phrase “course of employment” should be liberally interpreted to ensure that the humanitarian purpose of the doctrine remains effective. The Court also pointed out that for employees who have to travel as part of their employment, the act of travel is essential for carrying out and furthering the business and affairs of the traveling employees’ employers. This also includes activities incidental to travel, such as lodging, refueling, and stopping for meals. Again, the burden is on the employer to rebut the presumption that a traveling employee was not in the scope of employment when injured.
The court did not make the ultimate determination whether the employee was still engaged in the course and scope of employment, or whether he had abandoned his employment prior to the accident. Rather, they remanded the case to the workers’ compensation judge to make that determination. However, the court did explain, clarify, and expand the Traveling Employee Doctrine and provided the lower courts some guidance on how to address these cases.
Given the proliferation of both remote work and hybrid work, once can clearly see situations where the expanded definition of the Traveling Employee Doctrine may apply. Remote employees are typically hired to perform their work duties away from the employer’s onsite office. Hybrid employees are usually expected to fulfill a portion of their work hours outside of their employer’s office and the remaining portion at the office. Employees performing their job duties in either of these work environments can be required to travel, whether it be to an onsite office, to a client meeting, or to an out of town conference. In addition, social gatherings sponsored by or endorsed by employers in an attempt to enhance the goodwill of co-employees are fertile ground for the application of the Traveling Employee Doctrine.
The facts of each case, including the employee’s actions, and the nature of the employment, will surely factor into these determinations. It is also expected that courts across the country will be seeing these issues repeatedly due to the ever-evolving climate.
When an employee gets injured on the job, they can file a Workers’ Compensation claim. Workers’ Compensation is a type of insurance that provides medical benefits and wage replacement to injured workers. However, it does not provide recovery for other legitimate damages, such an injured party’s pain and suffering. Depending on the circumstances that surround a worker’s injury, they may want to consider filing a third-party liability claim as well. Some of the most common types of third-party liability claims involve the design, manufacturing, and marketing defects of products or equipment that individuals use in the workplace.
Galfand Berger LLP has been successful in advocating on behalf of injured workers by filing Workers’ Compensation and third-party liability claims in the following matters:
If you are an employee who has been injured at work and have questions about filing a Workers’ Compensation or a third-party liability claim, one of our experienced lawyers can help.
If you have a workplace injury and you are a remote or hybrid worker, contact one of our Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP for legal assistance. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.