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September 4, 2014

In Pennsylvania, “the bunkhouse rule” provides that an employee’s hours of employment are not necessarily limited to the hours actually worked. Travelling back to 1924, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has revived the rule.

In the 1924 case, scabs were replacing striking workers. As it was impractical for the employees to obtain lodging elsewhere, they were lodged in a “bunkhouse.” It was necessary for the employer to keep them on the premises to keep the business operating. While the employees were sleeping in the bunkhouse, someone tossed a bomb into the bunkhouse and three employees were killed. The courts of the time ruled the injuries and loss of life were compensable and the “bunkhouse rule” was born.

Fast forward to 2014 and a new case revives the “bunkhouse rule.” A mother was employed as a health care worker for her adult son under a state funded program. The mother provided attendant care for her son at her residence in exchange for hourly wages. The son needed care due to significant medical issues, including the amputation of his leg. The mother worked 40 hours Monday thru Friday and 12 hours per day on Saturday and Sundays. While the mother was sleeping one evening, the son came into her bedroom and attacked her with a kitchen knife. She suffered physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the attack.

The mother sought workers’ compensation benefits for these injuries. The workers’ compensation judge ruled that there was an employment relationship. The workers’ compensation judge found that based upon the evidence, she demonstrated that her employment for her son required her to be on the premises at the time she sustained her injuries, thus invoking the “bunkhouse rule.” The Commonwealth Court agreed keeping the “bunkhouse rule” alive 90 years after its birth.