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Employee who is injured on the job during a break on employer’s premises is still entitled to Workers’ Compensation

January 15, 2020

By John W. Zatkos, Jr., Esquire

The injured worker can win benefits for a laceration, even while using personal equipment during an unpaid lunch break, if that injured worker was within the course and scope of employment at the time of this incident. In McKean v. James Austin Company, 34 PAWCLER 158 (Pa. WCAB 2019), the injured worker lacerated her hand with a personal knife she used for work during her unpaid lunch on the employer’s premises.

WCAB stated its opinion:

Injuries may be sustained in the course of employment in two distinct situations: (1) where the employee, whether on or off the premises, is injured while actually engaged in the furtherance of  the employer’s business or affairs or (2) where the employee, although not actually engaged in the furtherance of the employer’s business or affairs, (a) is on the premises occupied or under the control of the employer, or upon which the employer’s business or affairs are being carried on; (b) is required by the nature of her employment to be on her employer’s premises; and (c) sustains injuries caused by the condition of the premises or by operation of the employer’s business or affairs thereon. WCAB (Slaugenhaupt) v. U.S. Steel Corp., 376 A.2d 271 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1977)

Neither small temporary departures from work to administer to personal comforts or convenience, nor inconsequential or innocent departures break the course of employment. The Baby’s Room v. WCAB (Stairs), 860 A.2d 200 (Pa Cmwlth. 2004).

The WCAB noted that the injured worker credibly testified that the injury occurred while on a lunch break on the employer’s premises. The injured worker further testified that the employees had to buy personal knives to trim the plastic from the bottles for their job duties.

Because eating lunch is a personal comfort necessary to perform her job, the injured worker was acting in the furtherance of the employers business when she injured her thumb.  The WCAB further noted that a 30 minute unpaid lunch break on the employer’s premises constitutes an inconsequential and innocent departure from work within her normal working hours.  The use of the personal knife was one that was required as part of her work duties and was simply also used to pry open her lunch container. This was not wholly foreign to her employment.  It was foreseeable that the injured worker would not leave the premises during her 4:00 a.m. lunch break and she might use her work-related knife in preparing her lunch.

What does this mean?  It is very important for an employee who is injured on the job during a break to be aware that there still may be a Workers’ Compensation claim that is viable, especially if it occurs on the employer’s premises.  These cases are very fact specific and need to be fully investigated.   Simply because the employer indicates that it is not work-related because it is outside the course and scope of employment because it is during a break does not answer the question of whether or not this is a viable Workers’ Compensation case for which recovery can be obtained by the injured worker.

If you have a Workers’ Compensation claim, contact us or call (412) 338-1177.

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