The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act allows most workers to collect workers’ compensation benefits in the event that they sustain a work injury or develop a work-related illness. However, not all employees are covered under the Act. For example, home health care workers may fall under an exception for domestic service workers, for whom coverage is optional.
Exceptions to Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Coverage
Generally, workers’ compensation is considered the exclusive remedy for Pennsylvania employees. Workers may not sue their employers directly for the workplace injuries or illnesses they suffer; rather, they must go through the workers’ compensation system to collect the benefits to which they are entitled.
However, certain types of workers may not be eligible for traditional workers’ compensation under the Act, including:
Domestic service workers
Real estate brokers
Pennsylvania Court Analyzes the Domestic Service Worker Exception
A recent case that came before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, Van Leer v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, provides some clarity as to what sort of caretaker duties fall within the domestic service exception. The case involved a caretaker for a woman with dementia who, during the course of her duties, sustained various physical injuries. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court noted the lack of case law regarding the specific circumstances of the case and conducted its own analysis of existing precedent.
It first considered a case in which a caregiver’s duties were more clearly domestic in nature than those of the caregiver in Van Leer. In that case, the court held that the claimant was not eligible for workers’ compensation because her only duty, self-admittedly, was serving as a companion for the owner of a private home.
Another case the court reviewed was one in which a claimant cared for a woman who was confined to a wheelchair. The court held that she was entitled to workers’ compensation because she fed and bathed the woman, as well as administered her medication – duties which the court considered to be more like those of a nurse’s aide and not a domestic servant.
In Van Leer, although the court agreed that the claimant’s duties were more akin to a nurse’s aide, it noted that she did not provide any type of medical care. Therefore, her duties fell within the domestic service exception of the Act and she was not entitled to workers’ compensation.
Are Home Healthcare Workers Entitled to Workers’ Compensation?
Healthcare workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Exposure to bloodborne illnesses and toxic chemicals, repetitive heavy lifting, and workplace violence are just some hazards of the job. Those who are employed through an agency are likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, however the law is not as clear for those who are employed by individuals. Therefore, it is important for home health care workers who are injured on the job to contact an experienced attorney regarding their legal rights and options.