Abnormal Working Conditions

In a recent Commonwealth Court case (PA Liquor Control Board v. WCAB (Kochanowicz), the Commonwealth Court held that experiencing an armed robbery while working in a liquor store was not a normal working condition, and the Claimant is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

In this case, the Claimant had worked for the Employer for over 30 years.  He was the general manager in the Employer’s retail liquor store.  Near closing time at the store, a masked gunman held Claimant and a clerk at gunpoint while he took the store’s money.  When Claimant showed anxiety, the gunman prodded Claimant with the gun to his head and asked Claimant if he was impatient.  The gunman then duct taped the Claimant and clerk to chairs, warning them not to call police for at least 20 minutes as he might return. 

After this incident, Claimant was unable to return to work.  Claimant testified that he continued to fear for his life and feared that another robbery would occur.   Medical evidence confirmed that Claimant was suffering from PTSD. 

Employer had argued that an armed robbery in a liquor store was not an abnormal working condition as they had provided training on workplace violence, including pamphlets and educational tools on the handling of a robbery.  Employer also argued that there had been other armed robberies in nearby stores in the area.  Originally, the Commonwealth Court agreed and stated that Claimant could have anticipated being robbed at gunpoint, so this was a normal working condition for his retail liquor store employment.  Claimant appealed to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court remanded back to the Commonwealth Court finding that mental injury cases are highly fact sensitive; therefore, the Court should give deference to the fact finding of the Workers’ Compensation Judge.   

The Workers’ Compensation Judge in this case had found that robbery at gunpoint is an abnormal working condition.  He stated that the fact that Employer acknowledges that workplace violence occurs does not place workplace violence into the realm of a normal working condition.  A gun being held to the back of the head is neither a normal societal occurrence, nor a normal working condition.  The Judge also found that, in 30 years of employment there, Claimant had never a gun pointed to his head.  Therefore, Claimant had shown that the specific armed robbery here was not a normal working condition.  Claimant was properly granted his workers’ compensation benefits.

No two cases are the same. To protect your rights, contact an Abes Baumann, P.C. Attorney today.

The Bunkhouse Rule

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.

The Going and Coming Rule

Not all injuries suffered while commuting to work are exempt from Workers’ Compensation. A recent Commonwealth Court case argued by Abes Baumann  reversed the decisions of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and the Workers’ Compensation Judge and found that a Claimant injured on his way to work suffered a work related injury. 

The Claimant was employed as a cable technician responsible for installing cable and network services for his employer at customers’ homes and businesses. Claimant reported to work each day at Employer’s facility where he clocked in and picked up his assignments and equipment for the day. He then spent the rest of the work day traveling to and working at various customer locations. The Employer allowed Claimant to take the company vehicle home each night and use it to report to work in the mornings. Claimant was not allowed to have passengers in the vehicle, and he was not permitted to use the vehicle for any other purpose besides work. 

Claimant was injured while driving the company vehicle to Employer’s facility to get his work assignments for the day. He was injured in a single car accident which resulted in significant injuries and required life-flight transportation to the hospital.

Claimant filed a Claim Petition. Employer objected to the Claim Petition asserting that Claimant was not in the course of his employment at the time of his injury.

The Court noted that pursuant to the “going and coming rule,” injuries sustained while an employee is traveling to and from his place of employment are outside the course of employment; therefore, not compensable under the PA Workers’ Compensation Act. However, there are exceptions to the “going and coming rule.” The exceptions include:  1) the claimant’s employment contract includes transportation; 2) the claimant has no fixed place of work; 3) the claimant was on a special mission for the employer; and 4) the special circumstances are such that the claimant was furthering the business of the employer.

In a prior case, the Court stated that a cable technician is a traveling employee. Like our case, that claimant was a cable technician who was given a company van to drive to and from work, and he was prohibited from using for the vehicle for non-work purposes. That claimant also reported to office each day to pick up his paperwork, then traveled to customer’s locations, returning to the office to drop off paperwork. He was injured in an auto accident on the way to work. The Court determined he was a traveling employee as he was not in the office for more than 15 minutes a day. 

The Court stated our case was “factually indistinguishable” from the prior case. Therefore, the Court adopted reasoning in the prior case and found that our Claimant was a traveling employee with no fixed place of work, thus exempt from the going and coming rule. Our Claimant was entitled to the presumption that he was working for Defendant when driving from his house to office. The Commonwealth Court concluded our Claimant’s injury occurred during the course and scope of employment and was compensable under the Act.    


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