In general terms, worker’s compensation benefits, such as medical care coverage and lost wages, are available to employees who suffer an injury or illness at work. In the State of California, in order for employees to be eligible, they must suffer an injury or illness while acting within the “course and scope of employment.” But what does this mean?
This may seem straightforward to many, but determining whether an employee is acting within the “course and scope of employment” is actually very complex. This is because there are so many different types of positions, factors, and countless activities that can occur at any given workplace.
For instance, are workers’ compensation benefits available to employees in California who are injured while taking lunch or break periods? Do these periods entail working within the “scope of employment?”
INJURIES AND ILLNESSES SUFFERED DURING BREAK PERIODS
Whether or not injuries or illnesses suffered at work during rest or lunch break periods qualify for workers’ compensation benefits in California depend on the situation. Over the years, California courts have applied different types of scenarios to the law.
For instance, California courts have ruled that an hourly employee who is injured while taking an uncompensated lunch break off of workplace premises is not working within the scope of employment and thus not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
Alternately, California courts have ruled that a salaried employee salesman who was injured off-premises while taking a business-related lunch break was in fact “working within the scope” of employment.
But how are these scenarios different from each other?
CALIFORNIA COURT RULINGS
Generally, California courts indicate that the employer-employee relationship is suspended during rest or break periods and those injured during this time are not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
However, courts say that salaried employees, or employees who remain compensated during rest or break periods, will be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in the event of an injury or illness. This is because the employer-employee relationship continues during these periods.
According to one court ruling, it is “reasonable [to infer] that by such an arrangement the employer has impliedly agreed that service will continue during such period.”
SEEKING THE ADVICE OF A WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ATTORNEY
Since so many activities fall in the gray area of eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits, consulting with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney is advised if you have sustained an injury or illness at work during a break or lunch period. A lawyer who understands the law can help determine if you are eligible.