Workers’ compensation for ‘personal projects’ in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, workers who get hurt in an on the job accident have a right to seek workers' compensation benefits. However, not every accident that happens in an employee's physical workspace counts as being "at work" for the purposes of the law.

In order for an accident to be considered "work related," and therefore eligible for workers' compensation benefits, it has to occur in both the course and scope of the worker's employment. Essentially, this means that the injury must have taken place while the employee was working to further the employer's business interests.

There are some exceptions to this rule, however. For example, in a recent case, the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Appeal Board ruled that an employee could recover benefits even though he was working on a personal project.

The case was brought by an employee at a manufacturing company. He had extra time in his shift, so he used one of the facility's machines to polish a part for his child's go-kart. While he was performing this task, a piece of fabric became entangled in the machine and pulled on his thumb, ultimately causing serious injury.

The employee filed for workers' compensation benefits. The employer denied the claim, arguing that since the employee was working on a personal project at the time of the accident, he was not injured in the course and scope of his employment.

The Workers' Compensation Appeal Board disagreed. It ruled that the employee was entitled to benefits since his project was an innocent and inconsequential departure from his normal work. The Appeal Board found it relevant that the employee had originally intended to only be away from his duties for about five minutes. Further, the Appeal Board noted that employees at the facility routinely used the company's machinery for personal projects. This practice was condoned by management, so long as the personal projects did not compromise employees' abilities to perform their job duties. Given all of these factors, the employee's injury was deemed to have occurred during the course and scope of his employment.

Contesting denied claims

In addition to the "course and scope" issues, the case highlights another important consideration that should be on the mind of anybody filing for workers' compensation benefits - employers and insurance companies regularly deny claims, even when a claim's legitimacy might seem obvious to the injured employee.

When this happens, it is advisable for injured employees to consult with an experienced Pennsylvania worker's compensation attorney. The attorney will be able to investigate the circumstances of the denial in order to help the injured employee protect his or her rights. However, since Pennsylvania law limits the time an injured worker has to contest a denied claim, it is important to meet with the attorney as soon as possible.