What is Course and Scope?

August 23, 2022
Stern & Cohen
Man driving truck

If you are injured in Pennsylvania, you are entitled Workers’ Compensation benefits if the injury occurred while you were in the course and scope of their employment. This may seem like an easy assessment: Was I hurt? Yes.  Was I working at the time? Yes. Ok, then I am entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits.  However, the “course and scope” issue is not always that simple, and in fact, is the basis for a lot of Workers’ Compensation litigation.  This blog will give you a better understanding of the different issues and gray areas we see on a daily basis. If there is even a question of whether you are covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act, you should contact us immediately.  We can answer any questions you may have and talking to us is free.

“Course and scope” can be described two ways: 

    1. Where the employee, whether on or off the employer’s premises, is injured while actually engaged in the furtherance of the employer’s business or affairs. For example, if an Amazon delivery driver loads their van with packages, then goes out to deliver those packages, they will be considered in the course and scope of their employment if hurt while loading their van, driving the van, or delivering a package to a customer.
    2. If an employee is not actually engaged in the furtherance of the employer’s business or affairs, they will be considered in the course and scope if the following: (a) he/she is on the premises occupied or under the control of the employer, or upon which the employer’s business or affairs are being carried on; (b) is required by the nature of his/her employment to be present on the employer’s premises; and (c) sustains injuries caused by the condition of the premises or by operation of the employer’s business or affairs thereon.  Here, think of a car saleswoman who is outside talking on her cell phone, walking back to her office, twists her ankle on uneven pavement on the car lot.

The key here is whether you are injured while actually engaged in the furtherance of the employer’s business or affairs. Slight “departures” or moments of leisure while in furtherance of the employer’s business during regular hours are still compensable. Here are some examples of compensable claims:

    • An employee injured while on a sanctioned smoke break
    • An employee, who was working from an employer-approved home office, fell down the stairs while attending to per personal comfort
    • An employee, who completed a furniture delivery to a residence, suffered a brain injury after trying to jump and touch a basketball rim on the customer’s property
    • An employee injured after being shot while stepping in the luncheonette

On the flip side, here are some examples of when the court found the employee outside the course and scope of employment:

    • An employee injured while operating a forklift.  The employee was not certified to use the forklift and was told not to use the forklift
    • An employee who intentionally jumped down a flight of stairs on the employer’s premises while on an unpaid lunch break. The court determined this to be foreign to employment and outside course and scope
    • An off-duty housing authority patrolman was shot while engaged in an altercation with an armed bar patron
    • An employee suffered an injury while dismantling a hoist that the employer permitted the employee to take home and use on a home project and was given to the employee as a courtesy

What if you just applied for a job or just quit and are injured? 

Yes, this has happened. A prospective employee was injured on the employer’s premises during the application process. The Court found that the injury was not within the course and scope of employment because the individual was not an employee at the time of his/her injury.   On the other hand, the employee who quit but was then injured when emptying personal items from the company van at the direction of his manager, was found to be in the course and scope of his employment. Each case is very fact-specific.

Am I entitled to Workers’ Compensation if I am hurt on my way to work?

Unfortunately, people are injured every day in motor vehicle accidents.  Are you entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident on the way to work, or coming home?  As a general rule, no. You are not entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits if you are injured commuting to and from work because this would be considered outside the course and scope of employment. However, there are important exceptions to this rule that puts a lot of these injuries in the course and scope of employment.  Those exceptions are:

    • If you have no fixed place of work
    • If your employment contract included transportation to and from work
    • If you are on a special assignment for the employer 
    • Special circumstances are such that the employee was furthering the business of the employer

Most cases fall under the first exception, when there is no fixed place of work.  Workers’ Compensation separates stationary (fixed) employees from traveling employee.  An obvious example of a traveling employee is a traveling salesman or saleswoman.  They are not going to an office building every day, and therefore, if they are injured after leaving home and going to a sales pitch, they are still within the course and scope of their employment and will receive Workers’ Compensation.

However, this exception goes further than you may think.  This exception may also include an HVAC technician, cable installer, construction worker, landscaper, etc.  Every case will depend on the facts and circumstances surrounding your employment, but it will ultimately boil down to whether you are required to travel in order to do your job.  Take the HVAC technician for example.  The HVAC technician has a specific place of business that he may report to every couple of days.  He drives a company van and keeps the van in his driveway.  Most days, he drives straight from home to his first job then bounces to difference jobs throughout the day and drives straight home after his last job of the day. If he is involved in a motor vehicle accident when traveling from home to his first job, or from his last job to home, resulting in injuries, he will fall under the purview of the Workers’ Compensation Act. In contrast, a telemarketer, who drives to and from the same office building every day, is a stationary employee.  If the telemarketer is involved in a motor vehicle accident on the way to work, or on the way home, they are not entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits.

What Should You Do?

Many times, a client calls us and says they were injured, one way or another, and believes he or she should be getting Workers’ Compensation but the employer’s Workers’ Compensation insurance carrier denied their claim, telling them they were not in the course and scope of their employment or not covered because they were traveling to/from work.  In our many years of experience, insurance adjusters are wrong the majority of the time. Insurance adjusters are not attorneys and do not know the law like we do.  If you were injured, do not take the insurance adjuster’s word for it, call us.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a work-related accident, call us at (215) 999-1443 or contact us by using the assistant or by filling out our contact form. The initial Workers’ Compensation consultation is free-of-charge