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No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: Compensability of Workers’ Compensation Claims  During Unpaid Lunch B No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: Compensability of Workers’ Compensation Claims  During Unpaid Lunch B

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: Compensability of Workers’ Compensation Claims During Unpaid Lunch Breaks

Workers’ compensation systems are generally designed to cover the costs of any injuries or accidents that occur on the job. While each state has its own specific regulations, most require the injury to be work-related. In Ohio, R.C. 4123.01(C)  specifies that a compensable injury must occur in the “course of, and arising out of, the injured employee's employment.” The ability to participate in the workers' compensation system is dependent on whether a causal connection exists between an employee's injury and their employment, either through the activities, the conditions, or the environment of the employment. The term “work-related” can be ambiguous when an employee is injured while on a paid or unpaid lunch break and chooses to leave the employer’s premises.

The “coming-and-going” rule is used to determine the compensability of an injury sustained while the employee is off the clock and enroute to or from his place of employment.  Under the “coming and going” rule, an employee with a fixed place of employment who is injured while traveling to or from that place of employment is not entitled to participate in the workers’ compensation system because the required “causal” connection between injury and employment does not exist. Although the rule typically applies to employees on the way to work at the start of the day or leaving work at the end of the day, courts have applied the “coming and going” rule in travel and off-premises activities during a lunch break. Courts have ruled that off-premises trips during an unpaid lunch break can be similar to a trip to and from work at the beginning and end of the workday.

Notably, Ohio also recognizes several exceptions to the “coming and going” rule. Accordingly, off-the-clock lunch accidents that occur on the employer’s premises may be recognized as compensable. Under the “zone of employment” exception, injuries that occur when the employee is on the employer’s property, even if while off the clock, before or after work hours, or while on an unpaid lunch break, can be compensable claims. The “zone of employment” exception would permit an injury allowance where the employee was injured in an area under the control of the employer, even if not engaged in the performance of substantial job duties. In Sebek v Cleveland Graphite Bronze Co, 148 Ohio St. 693, the Ohio Supreme Court stated that “to be entitled to workmen’s compensation, a workman need not necessarily be injured in the actual performance of work for his employer. It is sufficient if he is injured in a pursuit or undertaking consistent with his contract of hire and which in some logical manner pertains to or is incidental, to his employment.” Ohio recognizes a “totality of the circumstances” exception that examines the relevant factors of the accident to determine (1) the proximity of the accident scene to the place of employment, (2) the degree of control the employer had over the accident scene, and (3) the benefit the employer received from the injured employee’s presence at the accident scene.

Under these two exceptions, an injury occurring on the premises owned and controlled by the employer, designated for employee use for the employer’s benefit, will typically be allowed as a compensable claim. Specifically, the means of ingress and egress into the employer’s work site, as well as an employee parking lot if under control of the employer, are included as part of the employer’s premises and will fall within the “zone of employment” exception for purposes of claim allowance. In accordance with Ohio caselaw, when an employee is injured in a company-controlled parking lot within a short time of clocking out for a lunch break where company policy allows staff to leave the premises, the injury can be considered work-related even if the purpose of leaving the jobsite is to attend to personal business. Under this caselaw, the location and control of where the injury occurred outweighs whether the employee was hurt while actively engaged in work duties to determine compensability and application of the “coming-and-going” rule.

For more information about this issue, contact Agnes Stucke or the Workers' Compensation lawyer with whom you most frequently work.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader's specific circumstances.

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