If the company you work for provides workers’ compensation benefits, you may already be familiar with the circumstances under which those benefits would kick in. In most scenarios, if you are injured while performing the duties expected of you and your position, you may receive benefits from your employer’s insurance company to cover any necessary medical care you need. This coverage can even extend to long-term or gradual injuries that result from work performed.
But what about those times when you’re not specifically performing work duties and are somehow injured in relation to your job? How do you determine if you’re covered by workers’ comp for injuries suffered during lunch breaks, company events, or paid time off?
In Florida, the general legal rule of thumb tends to be that in order for an employee to be covered, their injury must occur during the course of employment, and while they were acting within the scope of employment. But as with many injury scenarios, each case is uniquely circumstantial.
Am I Covered During My Lunch Break?
Many employees may take their lunch break away from where they perform their duties, whether that’s a desk, delivery truck, warehouse, or other. That being the case, the employee is likely not actively involved in their employment duties during that time. Although each case is different and circumstantial, judges tend to rule that even if the employee was injured at their place of work, if they were on their lunch break and not actively performing their job’s role, they likely do not qualify for workers’ comp benefits.
However, circumstances may call for a different view of the case. Say you decide to take your lunch outside near your business building. If you accidently trip, fall, and injure yourself while eating, you may not be covered, as the injury was not a direct result of your work. But if, say, company equipment was being moved past you while on your break and an item came loose and collided with you, you may be able to argue that your place of work did in fact directly cause any resulting injuries. It also stands to reason that this incident could have occurred whether you were on your lunch break or not, which may help a judge lean in your favor.
The same can be said for any job requests made while you are on your clocked-out lunch break. Say you let your supervisor know that you will be driving down the street for some lunch during your break. If they ask you to make a quick detour to pick something up on behalf of the business and you are involved in a car accident while performing that requested duty, you may be eligible for having your injuries covered by workers’ comp. A “working lunch” like this can change the circumstances of a claim or case, even if you are not performing your “regular” job duties when injured.
Am I Covered During Company Events?
Employers often enjoy organizing and scheduling activities for their employees outside the scope of their normal work. These events can include things like company softball leagues, company picnics, sponsorship events, holiday parties, and more. The goal is often to provide an outlet for employees to not only enjoy themselves, but to increase business visibility, network, and boost morale and camaraderie between employees. The intentions are often positive, but such events do open more liability for unusual circumstances.
Let’s say your company hosts an annual picnic that involves lots of fun physical activities. You participate and unfortunately end up severely injuring yourself during an activity. To determine whether the picnic and the events therein are within the course of your employment, the courts will consider a variety of details, which again are circumstantial. They may take into account the extent to which your company required you to participate, if the event took place during normal business hours, the degree to which your company benefits from the activity, and if the event took place on company property.
Often, courts will determine that if the event or activity attendance was voluntary, occurred off the employer’s premises, and took place outside normal working hours, you may not be covered, as it cannot be reasonably viewed as conduct within the scope of employment. If, however, your involvement was assigned or mandatory, you were paid regular wages for your attendance or participation, or the event was held during normal business hours in lieu of normal work, you may be entitled to benefits. Once again, each case’s circumstances are very dependent upon other factors surrounding how, where, and why the injury occurred.
Am I Covered During Time Off?
The answer to this question may be a little more straightforward than other workers’ comp injury scenarios, but it still leaves room for questions to arise. If you take scheduled time off from your regular work duties, whether it’s paid or unpaid time, and you are injured during the course of that time off in a way that is completely unrelated to your job, you likely will not qualify for benefits. There is often no proven correlation between your time-off activities and the duties of your job to set workers’ comp proceedings in motion.
If, however, you are in the midst of your time off and your employer asks you to take a moment to complete a job task that results in an injury, you may qualify for benefits. That could be true whether the task occurs back at your place of work, while running a convenient errand on behalf of the business, or while fulfilling another workplace-related request. Even if the company records show you as being on vacation, off the clock, or taking a personal day during the time of injury, the courts will be looking at all the circumstances surrounding the factors leading to the injury. That’s how they best determine the extent of coverage you may qualify for.
It’s also important to realize that if you are already taking time off from performing your work duties as a direct result of an injury suffered at work, and are already using your workers’ comp benefits, you may be eligible to receive further benefits should your injuries get worse, or you suffer additional injury due to your original injuries.
If any of the above scenarios sound overwhelming or confusing to determine, that’s because they very often are. Workers’ comp cases are challenging to navigate because they are so circumstantial. But you should never be afraid to file a workers’ comp claim if you believe you are entitled to benefits. And the best place to start is always by contacting an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer to review your case.
The Whisler Law Firm has years of experience helping people just like you determine if the circumstances of their work-related injury should qualify them for benefits. That process starts with an entirely free consultation with our team. Call 833-529-5677 or fill out our online form to schedule yours today.