Glossary Check: Pa. ‘Positional Risk’ Test

13 Nov, 2023 Chris Parker


Harrisburg, PA ( -- In Pennsylvania, when deciding whether an injury “arises out of employment,” courts apply the “positional-risk test.” 

General Standard for Compensability 

A Pennsylvania worker who suffers an accidental injury "arising out of and in the course of employment" is generally entitled to workers' compensation benefits. 

The "arising out of" test concerns the origin or cause of the injury. “In the course of" refers to the time, place and circumstances under which the injury occurred. 

Both prongs are designed to answer the same question: whether the injury was sufficiently connected to work to be covered. 

'In the Course of' Employment 

An accident occurs “in the course of employment” when it takes place  

(1) Within the period of the employment; 
(2) At a place where the employee may reasonably be expected to be; and 
(3) While he is fulfilling his employment duties or doing something reasonably incidental thereto. 

Under the “coming and going rule,” injuries that occur on an employee's commute to or from work, or while on a break during the workday, are not within the course of employment. There are exceptions, however, including when the employee is paid for commuting or break time. 

'Arises out of' Employment 

There are three categories of risks: 

  1. Risks distinctly associated with employment. These are compensable. 
  1. Risks personal to the claimant. These are not compensable. 
  1. Neutral risks. These have no particular employment or personal character. They may or may not be compensable, based on the outcome of the “positional risk” test. 

'Positional Risk Test” 

Under this test, courts consider whether the conditions and obligations of employment placed the claimant in the position where he was injured. 

More specifically, courts ask whether the employee's injuries would not have happened but for the fact that conditions and obligations of the employment placed him in a position where he was injured. 

What the employee has to show: 

The employee need not show that his work required them to be in the particular place at the particular time of the injury. 

However, the employee must show that the conditions or obligations of employment generally placed him in the position in which the injury occurred. 

An employer, on the other hand, can help establish that the injury was not connected to work by highlighting any evidence suggesting the injury occurred on a personal errand.  

For example, if an employee is injured during a lunch break that is away from a job site, some relevant evidence might include: 

+ The employee’s reason for being in the particular place at the particular time (e.g. he wanted to meet a friend at a distant deli for lunch);  
+ How the employee reached that location (his own vehicle, a work vehicle, or some other method of transportation); and 
+ To what degree employment conditions compelled the time and place of the meeting. 

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