Stephen Hasner | Workers' Compensation | October 11, 2019
Working for long periods without a break can have a negative impact on employee morale. In turn, this can lead to undue stress and cause exhaustion. As a result, the worker may be less productive on the job and could suffer symptoms of physical and emotional burnout. By contrast, scheduled downtime can help ensure that the employee stays motivated and fresh. This can allow for more creative insights to occur that improve the overall quality of work performed.
However, sometimes accidents occur during these breaks. This can result in the employee sustaining an injury and being unable to return to work. Generally speaking, workers’ compensation is meant to help employees financially following a work-related injury. This is a form of insurance that most employers in Georgia are required to carry and provides benefits to cover medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and lost income.
In most cases, it does not matter how the work injury happened or who was at fault. But, the accident must have occurred while an employee was actually working.
On the Job Injuries
It is important to note that only injuries that happen “on the job” are covered by workers’ comp. This means that the injury must arise out of employment and be caused by the work an employee was performing. For example, straining your back while moving heavy equipment would be covered. By contrast, having a stroke during work hours would probably be unrelated to your work and therefore not entitle you to benefits.
Further, the injury must occur in the course of employment. This means that you must have been on the clock at your job and performing the duties you were paid to do. Therefore, injuries that happen during work breaks, including lunch breaks, are not considered to be in the course of employment and are generally not covered.
Definition of a Break
Now, while that might seem like a straightforward rule, not all periods of downtime are considered breaks under the law. The determination turns on whether an employee was completely released from his or her work duties. In other words, to be considered a break, you must be free to use your time as you see fit.
This means that the fact that you were eating your lunch is of less importance than the expectations of your employer. If it is expected that you continue to work during lunch, this likely isn’t considered a break and your injury would be covered by workers’ comp. An example would be if your injury occurred at a mandatory business lunch meeting.
Likewise, the break needs to be considered “scheduled” to disqualify you from benefits. A non-scheduled break would include things like going to the bathroom or taking a quick stop for a snack at the vending machine. If these actions resulted in you getting injured, you would be entitled to benefits.
The Ingress and Egress Rule
In Georgia, injuries that occur while commuting to and from work are not covered under workers’ comp. That said, if an employee is on the work premises while arriving at or leaving work, the injury would be covered. This is referred to as the “ingress and egress” rule. The rationale behind it being that your period of employment typically includes the time you spend traveling from your car to your work station.
But, bear in mind that if you are injured while not on company property, such as in an adjacent parking lot not owned or controlled by your employer or in a street parking spot, you would not be covered. Note that the Georgia Court of Appeals recently held that this rule does not apply to scheduled breaks.
For a scheduled break, if you are hurt on the way to your car or back to your desk on company property, the injury would not be covered. Because these rules can be complicated, it might be helpful to speak to a qualified attorney if you are unsure whether or not your injury qualifies for benefits.
What to Do If You Are Injured at Work
As you may have noticed, the rules regarding workers’ compensation are complicated and are subject to change. For this reason, don’t automatically assume that you aren’t entitled to benefits based on the injury you sustained.
If an accident occurs it is best to report it to your employer as soon as possible. Failure to do so can negatively impact your ability to file for workers’ comp. It can also be helpful to talk to a qualified attorney who can assess your case and advise you on how best to proceed.