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Pa. Workers’ Compensation Law Update

April 21, 2011

The Pa. Commonwealth Court has recently ruled that a claimant's decision, on a "whim" to intentionally jump down approximately 12 flights of stairs while going to take his one half hour unpaid lunch leave at the employer's on campus dining facility, where the claimant had an employer sponsored meal plan, did not result in an injury in the course and scope of employment because the claimant's actions cannot be viewed as furthering the employer's business or affairs.

The actions taken by claimant in jumping down the stairs, while on his lunch break, were wholly foreign to his employment. The premeditated, deliberate, extreme, and inherently high-risk nature of Claimant's actions were sufficient to remove Claimant from the course and scope of his employment
An injury is compensable under Section 301(c) (1) of the Act only if the injury arises in the course of employment and is causally related thereto. An injury may be sustained "in the course of employment" under Section 301(c) (1) of the Act where the employee is injured on or off the employer's premises while actually engaged in furtherance of the employer's business or affairs.

Technically, a claimant who is at lunch and sustains an injury off the employer's premises is not acting in furtherance of the employer's business or affairs.

Employees who remain on employer's premises for their lunch break and sustain an injury are generally considered to be in furtherance of the employer's business, unless the activity they are engaged in was so wholly foreign to their employment.

Generally, neither small temporary departures from work to administer to personal comforts or convenience, nor inconsequential or innocent departures will break during the course of employment.

Upon determining whether or not a departure from work is lengthy or temporary, monumental, or minor, i.e., whether it is a break in the course of employment or not — there is no fixed standard by which to make the determination. Additionally, the personal conflict doctrine recognizes that "breaks which allow the employee to administer to his personal comfort better enable him to perform his job and are, therefore, considered to be in furtherance of the employer's businesses.

Certain factors to be considered important when determining whether an employee was furthering an employer's business or affairs when injured while engaging in a social or personal activity during a work break or non work hours.

First, in concluding that an employee was engaged in the furtherance of the business or affairs of the employer, much emphasis is placed on evidence demonstrating that the employer encouraged the activity at issue.

Second, emphasis is placed on the finding that the activity the claimant was engaged in furthered a specific interest of the employer.

Third, the Court considers whether the activity was necessary to maintain a claimant's employment skills.

Penn State University v. WCAB (Smith), No. 630 C.D. 2010 (decision by Judge Brobson, February 22, 2011). 3/11

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