The Claimant filed a Claim Petition alleging he sustained an injury in the course and scope of his employment. In support of his Petition, he testified that while he was walking in the Employer’s warehouse, a co-employee grabbed him from behind and shouted “let’s get him.” The Claimant stated that another employee grabbed the Claimant, hugged him and attempted to trip him. The Claimant indicated that as the co-emloyee let him go, the Claimant was injured. The Claimant acknowledged that horseplay was prohibited by the Employer and was a punishable offense.
The Employer presented testimony of the employees involved in the incident. The employees testified that the Claimant and the employees were involved in horseplay and there was no intent to harm the Claimant.
The WCJ granted the Claim Petition which the Appeal Board later affirmed. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Decision as well. The Court acknowledged that the Employer may raise an affirmative defense that the Claimant's actions violated a positive work order and therefore his injuries were sustained outside the course and scope of employment. Specifically, the Employer must prove that the injury was in fact caused by the violation of the work rule, the employee actually knew of the order or rule and the rule implicated an activity not connected with the employee’s work duties. Indeed, the Claimant must have been involved in an activity at the time of his injury so disconnected with his regular work duties as to be considered, with respect to the Employer, nothing more than a stranger or trespasser.
The Commonwealth Court did not find significant the Claimant’s supervisor’s statement that if and when the Claimant returned to work he would be subject to disciplinary action just like the co-employee. The Court found that the Claimant was entitled to benefits despite knowing that horseplay was prohibited and his injury clearly occurred as a result of the horseplay. The Court stated that the Claimant’s horseplay was not so disconnected with the regular work duties as to render him nothing more than a stranger or trespasser.
What It Means to You
The Court continues to show that a denial of benefits based on a violation of a work rule is a rare instance. Even if there are rules in place prohibiting horseplay, the Claimant will very likely be entitled to benefits even if he or she knows that horseplay was prohibited and the injury clearly occurred as a result of the horseplay. Mere horseplay will likely not be considered so disconnected with regular work duties as to render the Employee nothing more than a stranger or trespasser. The attorneys at Cipriani & Werner are available to discuss your specific work comp related claims.