In the last few blog posts, we’ve been talking about what happens if you are a W-2 employee and are injured while commuting to work. While there are exceptions (see last week’s post), generally speaking, you would not be covered under workers’ comp due to the “coming-and-going” rule.
But what about if you run out to grab a hoagie, chips and a Big Gulp during your lunch break? What if you leave work and are injured while going to or returning from lunch?
First, let’s recap from our March 5 blog post: The “coming-and-going” rule is a tool used to determine whether an injury suffered by an employee in a traffic accident occurred “in the course of” and “arises out of” the employment relationship so as to constitute a compensable injury. As a general rule, an employee with a fixed place of employment (called “fixed-situs”) who is injured while traveling to or from that place of employment, is not entitled to participate in the Workers’ Compensation Fund because the required “causal” connection between injury and the employment does not exist.
Work related or personal frolic?
This news might give you indigestion but here’s the deal: If you leave work to go to lunch and get injured while returning to your work site, the injury is generally not compensable.
Let’s look at the case of Jerry, a home healthcare worker whose job requires him to travel to patients’ homes to provide care. While he was returning from lunch to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription for a patient, he was involved in a car accident. The pharmacist had told Jerry that it would take about 45 minutes to fill the prescription, so Jerry drove to get a burger at a restaurant about 10 miles away from the pharmacy. On his drive back to the pharmacy, his car was hit by another vehicle on a freeway exit ramp.
Jerry filed a workers’ comp claim, stating that the injury occurred during his employment because he had discretion over when and how to take his lunch beak, and was injured while returning to the pharmacy to pick up the patient’s prescription.
The court rejected Jerry’s argument, stating that Jerry’s lunch break took him a significant distance from the pharmacy where he was engaged in his job duties, and that only by reason of his decision to travel to lunch was he at the exit ramp where the accident/injury occurred. Therefore, there was credible evidence to support the notion that Jerry’s injury was related to a personal frolic and did not occur in the course of his employment—so Jerry was denied workers’ comp for this injury.