Abnormal Working Conditions
In a recent Commonwealth Court case (PA Liquor Control Board v. WCAB (Kochanowicz), the Commonwealth Court held that experiencing an armed robbery while working in a liquor store was not a normal working condition, and the Claimant is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In this case, the Claimant had worked for the Employer for over 30 years. He was the general manager in the Employer’s retail liquor store. Near closing time at the store, a masked gunman held Claimant and a clerk at gunpoint while he took the store’s money. When Claimant showed anxiety, the gunman prodded Claimant with the gun to his head and asked Claimant if he was impatient. The gunman then duct taped the Claimant and clerk to chairs, warning them not to call police for at least 20 minutes as he might return.
After this incident, Claimant was unable to return to work. Claimant testified that he continued to fear for his life and feared that another robbery would occur. Medical evidence confirmed that Claimant was suffering from PTSD.
Employer had argued that an armed robbery in a liquor store was not an abnormal working condition as they had provided training on workplace violence, including pamphlets and educational tools on the handling of a robbery. Employer also argued that there had been other armed robberies in nearby stores in the area. Originally, the Commonwealth Court agreed and stated that Claimant could have anticipated being robbed at gunpoint, so this was a normal working condition for his retail liquor store employment. Claimant appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court remanded back to the Commonwealth Court finding that mental injury cases are highly fact sensitive; therefore, the Court should give deference to the fact finding of the Workers’ Compensation Judge.
The Workers’ Compensation Judge in this case had found that robbery at gunpoint is an abnormal working condition. He stated that the fact that Employer acknowledges that workplace violence occurs does not place workplace violence into the realm of a normal working condition. A gun being held to the back of the head is neither a normal societal occurrence, nor a normal working condition. The Judge also found that, in 30 years of employment there, Claimant had never a gun pointed to his head. Therefore, Claimant had shown that the specific armed robbery here was not a normal working condition. Claimant was properly granted his workers’ compensation benefits.
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