Imagine this: Employees at a work site have some down time while waiting for materials to arrive. To amuse themselves while waiting, they try to smash a bowling ball with a sledge hammer. An employee is injured. Does the injury quality for workers’ comp benefits?
Charles Habib worked for John Roth Paving Pavemasters as a laborer.
One day while part of a work crew, the employees were waiting for a delivery of a truckload of asphalt. While they were waiting, one of the workers found a bowling ball next to the parking lot where they were working.
First they used the bowling ball as a shot put.
Then a challenge arose to see if anyone could break the bowling ball with a sledge hammer.
Habib swung the sledge hammer and cracked the ball.
The crew foreman told him to “knock it off.” The foreman also said he wouldn’t take him to the hospital if he were injured.
Habib struck the ball a second time. A piece broke off and struck him in the eye.
He suffered a serious cut, resulting in a total loss of that eye.
Comp board disagrees with judge
Habib filed for workers’ comp benefits, claiming he suffered a work-related injury in the course and scope of employment. The company said he shouldn’t get comp because he violated a “positive work order” (the foreman telling him to “knock it off”). The matter went before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ).
The WCJ granted benefits to Habib, using this reasoning: Habib didn’t put himself deliberately at risk, he was just careless. Carelessness didn’t take him outside the scope of his employment. The WCJ also didn’t think that the foreman’s statement to Habib to “knock it off” was a positive work order.
The company took the case to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board.
The Board reversed the ruling. It decided Habib had violated a positive work order, and that prohibited him from receiving workers’ comp.
Habib appealed to a state court.
The court sided with the company. It ruled that the three requirements for establishing a positive work order violation had been met:
- The injury must be caused by the violation of the work order.
- The employee must know about the work order.
- The order must implicate an activity not connected with the employee’s work duties.
Good news for employers in Pennsylvania, and other states with “positive work order violation” exceptions: If an employee is injured on the clock but while goofing off on a non-work activity, you’re not necessarily on the hook for workers’ comp if a supervisor told the worker to stop the horseplay.
What do you think about the court’s decision? What do you think about the reasoning used by the WCJ who said this was a work-related injury? Let us know in the comments below.
(Habib v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, Commonwealth Court of PA, No. 2612 C.D. 2010, 8/12/2011)