Salesperson Injured Leaving Employer Happy Hour Could Receive Workers’ Comp

By | December 6, 2021

A traveling salesperson injured in a car accident after an employer-sponsored happy hour had to drive past the highway exit to his home on the way to the event, sparking debate over whether he was still considered “on the job” at the time of the accident. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court says that he was, and he could be eligible for workers’ compensation.

Most of the debate in this case centers on the traveling employee doctrine, something the Pennsylvania Supreme Court says it has never specifically addressed until now. The doctrine states that when a traveling employee is injured in the course of business, they are considered on the job at the time of their injury unless their employer can prove they were acting outside of the scope of their employment.

In this case, plaintiff Jonathan Peters, a uniform sales representative for corporate apparel company Cintas Corporation, typically worked half-days in the company’s Allentown, Pennsylvania, branch office on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and traveled the remainder of those days, as well as Thursdays and Fridays, to meet with potential customers near Reading, Pennsylvania.

After his last sales appointment on February 27, 2015, Peters attended an employer-sponsored event at The Tilted Kilt in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and was injured in a motor vehicle accident after leaving the event. He filed a claim petition seeking partial disability benefits from February 28, 2015, and total disability benefits from April 3, 2015, alleging the accident happened in the course of his employment. Cintas Corporation, however, denied this.

Peters’ claim petition was then assigned to a workers’ compensation judge, who held hearings on the issue on February 10, 2016, and April 1, 2016. At the hearings, Peters testified that his sales manager, Michael Cintron, had invited the sales representatives to the Titled Kilt event earlier that week as a celebration to mark the end of a sales blitz week. He said these types of events had been held in the past and that he believed they were somewhat mandatory. Peters alleged that during the event, appetizers and drinks were served and paid for by Cintas Corporation and work was discussed.

Theodore Smith, a sales representative with Cintas, and Michael Cintron, a sales manager, both offered testimony consistent with Peters’ claims, although they emphasized that the social event was voluntary. They claimed work was not discussed during the event. Cintron could not recall whether Peters stated in a phone call that his motor vehicle accident occurred immediately after leaving the event or after he had stopped at a separate location.

The workers’ compensation judge denied Peters’ claim petition in a decision on November 1, 2016, stating that the event did not appear to be a mandatory business meeting. The judge did acknowledge that Peters was considered a traveling employee, however, the traveling employee doctrine was not applied because Peters testified that he passed the highway exit to his home to attend the event at The Tilted Kilt.

Peters later appealed the workers’ compensation judge’s decision to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, which affirmed the decision in a November 16, 2017, order. He then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which also affirmed. Then, Peters filed a petition for allowance of appeal, which was granted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Peters claimed that he was a traveling employee acting in the course of his employment at the time of the motor vehicle accident, because although he passed the highway exit to his home on the way to The Tilted Kilt, he was driving to an employer-sponsored event.

On the other hand, Cintas maintained that Peters abandoned his employment when he passed the highway exit to his home and went to The Tilted Kilt because his attendance was not mandatory for his employment and the event was not work-related.

Although the Commonwealth Court found that Peters’ employment duties ended when he passed the exit to his home, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that determination was “far too narrow.”

“An employee’s course of employment does not end simply because the employee passed his or her home during the workday,” Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy found. “For example, if Claimant had passed his home while traveling from one customer to the next, he surely would not have ceased to be in the course of his employment simply by passing his home.”

Mundy also determined that although the event was social in nature, it was still hosted and sponsored by Cintas Corporation, who benefited by fostering relationships and improving employee morale. That said, she remanded to the workers’ compensation judge to determine whether Peters was leaving The Titled Kilt or a different location, as Cintron testified, at the time of the accident.

As a result, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that Peters was in the course of his employment during the event at The Titled Kilt, but because there is conflicting testimony as to where Peters was traveling from during the accident, the case was remanded back to the workers’ compensation judge for additional findings consistent with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s opinion.

The case is Jonathan Peters, Appellant v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Cintas Corporation).

Topics Workers' Compensation Commercial Lines Business Insurance

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