The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that a worker was entitled to benefits for injuries from falling as she walked from her assigned, employer-provided parking space to her workplace.
Case: Weaver v. Breinig (WCAB), No. 490 C.D. 2020, released 04/26/2021, published 07/13/2021.
Facts: Sally Breinig worked for James L. Weaver as an embroidery manager for 13 years. On Feb. 10, 2017, she fell on the sidewalk adjacent to Weaver’s building while walking to work shortly before her shift began.
Breinig had parked in a small, public parking lot owned by Carnegie Borough behind the building.
There were three routes from the parking area to the business, and Breinig took the most direct route through a small park owned by the borough. She saw ice on the pathway and, while trying to avoid it, slipped.
Weaver bought parking permits for three spaces in the lot, one of them assigned to Breinig. She always used the same spot but was not required to.
Procedural history: Breinig filed a workers’ compensation claim against Weaver and the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund. A workers’ compensation judge found that Breinig was entitled to benefits.
The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board affirmed.
Analysis: The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania explained that a worker’s injury is compensable if it arises within the course of employment.
Injuries qualify as within the “course of employment” when the employee is injured on or off the employer’s premises if the employee was engaged “in furtherance of the employer’s business or affairs,” the court said.
Section 301(c)(1) of the Workers’ Compensation Act also provides that an injury arising in the course of employment includes all those caused by the condition of the premises or by the operation of the employer’s business or affairs, even if the worker is not engaged in the employer’s business but her presence is required by the nature of her employment.
Case law construing this provision has further refined “course of employment” to include an employee’s injury if she establishes that the injury occurred on employer’s premises; the claimant’s presence was required by the nature of her employment; and the injury was caused by the condition of the premises or by operation of the employer’s business. This three-factor inquiry is often referred to as the Slaugenhaupt test, since it derives from a 1977 case called WCAB (Slaugenhaupt) v. U.S. Steel Corp.
Weaver’s challenge to the award focused on the first prong of the Slaugenhaupt test — whether the injury occurred on its “premises.” This required the court to consider whether the site of the fall was so connected to Weaver’s business as to form an integral part of it, the court said.
The court said the “employer’s premises” in Section 301(c)(1) is construed liberally to include any area that is integral to the employer’s business operations, including any reasonable means of ingress to or egress from the workplace.
The court said facts of the case did not compel a legal conclusion that the parking area itself was integral to Weaver’s business, but the route Breinig took was the proper focus, since that is where she fell.
The court noted that the parking area was in a plaza comprising other buildings that Weaver owned, and there was no dispute that the area where Breinig fell was a customary means of ingress and egress for employees.
Since the term “premises” under the first prong of the Slaugenhaupt test includes the reasonable means of ingress and egress, the court said, the first prong of the Slaugenhaupt test was met.
The court also noted that Breinig’s path was the most direct route possible and a reasonable means of access. Thus, the court said, the accident site was properly treated as part of Weaver’s premises.
To read the court’s decision, click here.