PA Supreme Court Extends Employer Liability For Injury Sustained After Work Happy Hour

Tucker Arensberg, P.C.

Tucker Arensberg, P.C.

The PA Supreme Court has extended the Workers’ Comp application of the “traveling employee” doctrine to include an employee’s attendance at happy hours, holiday parties and other social gatherings that are sponsored by the employer.  Just before Thanksgiving, the PA Supreme Court ruled on the matter of Peters v. WCAB (Cintas Corp.) and awarded six years of retroactive wage loss and medical benefits, to a traveling salesman who worked for the apparel company, Cintas.  Mr. Peters’ injuries were sustained in a car accident that occurred as he was driving home from a work happy hour.  When Mr. Peters’ Workers’ Comp claim was filed in 2016, the Workers’ Compensation Judge denied Mr. Peters’ claim; the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the denial, as did the Commonwealth Court.  The Supreme Court overturned the lower court rulings that Mr. Peters was not entitled to compensation.

In reversing the lower court rulings, the Supreme Court noted that “…the employer hosted and sponsored the event.  While work may not have been discussed at the event, the event still benefited employer by fostering relationships and improving morale.”  Attorneys for Cintas argued that Mr. Peters’ attendance at the event was voluntary, and that he had finished his last sales call of the day (at a nearby business), and had driven past his own house, to attend the happy hour…thus, ending his “work day” and creating a separation between his work function (the sales call), and simply attending a social function sponsored by his work.  Attorneys for Cintas also argued that the fact that the accident occurred after he left the event, and was driving home for the night – also meant he was “off the clock.”  The Supreme Court was not swayed.  

The Court utilized the “traveling employee” doctrine to apply to Mr. Peters’ activities before/after the happy hour, and noted that Mr. Peters had no “fixed place of employment” but rather worked from his home for Cintas.  The fact that he traveled throughout a sales territory for his job also eliminated the application of the “coming and going” rule, that ordinarily precludes an award of compensation for any injury sustained during a commute.  

It is worth noting that the precedent of the Peters decision does not extend to work-from-home employees, or employees who have begun working a “hybrid” schedule since the pandemic began.  The fact that Mr. Peters traveled for his job, and had no fixed place of employment (whether his home or an office someplace) was the key to the Supreme Court Decision.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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