Was your lunch break ruined not by a customer asking you for help off-the-clock but by a workplace injury? You might still be able to file for workers’ compensation benefits despite clocking out for lunch depending on the circumstances of your accident.
Most insurance companies will want to automatically deny a workers’ compensation claim filed in relation to a lunch break accident, though. As they see it, the coverage they sell only applies to when work is being done, but this is not necessarily the case.
Are You an Employee When On Lunch?
Employment laws typically set aside lunch breaks as time for the employee to use as they want, whether that involves eating lunch or not. Employers are not supposed to ask employees to complete any tasks while on lunch and off-the-clock. They are not even supposed to talk to an employee about what they should do once they clock back in, that is how protected lunch breaks are meant to be.
However, your employer losing control over or responsibility for you while you are on lunch has “side effects.” Namely, your employer’s responsibility for your safety and wellbeing can be temporarily lessened or removed. Insurance companies would like to argue that the duty of care is lessened to the point that you are no longer covered by a workers’ compensation policy.
Unfortunately for workers, insurance companies have been correct in many cases that have gone to court for resolution. When you are not clocked in – or officially on lunch if you do not work with a timeclock system – you are usually considered in charge of your own health and safety.
Important Exceptions That May Apply
There are few workers’ compensation rules without any exceptions, though. Saying that most lunch break accidents are not covered by workers’ compensation policies implies that some are.
You could still file for workers’ comp if you were hurt on lunch and:
- You were in the breakroom: All parts of your workplace are always your employer’s responsibility to maintain, including the breakroom. If you were in the breakroom when on lunch and you were hurt due to a hazard there, then you should be able to file for workers’ compensation. Something as simple as slipping on a puddle near the breakroom water cooler can justify a claim, even when you are off-the-clock.
- Your coworker caused your accident: Your employer is also always responsible for the actions of their on-the-clock employees, at least to a reasonable extend, through the legal concept of respondeat superior. If your coworker’s mistake causes you to get injured while you are on lunch, then your employer might still be responsible for your injury, meaning their workers’ compensation policy should apply.
- You were running a job-related errand: Although it is not supposed to happen, bosses and employers send employees on job-related errands while on lunch quite often. Usually, lunch break errands are also food-related, such as going to the deli next door to pick up sandwiches for the office staff. However, whether you are on-the-clock or not, when you are completing a duty that you are reasonably led to believe is job-related – like collecting a food order for your boss – you should be covered by workers’ compensation.
Can You Sue Your Employer for a Lunch Break Injury?
Interestingly, if your employer or their insurance company denies your workers’ compensation claim for an accident that happened while you were on lunch, then they will be opening themselves up to a potential third-party lawsuit. Rather than being guaranteed benefits through workers’ compensation, you will have to demand compensation through a personal injury claim. Depending on the extent of your injuries, you could stand to secure an even greater amount of compensation through a successful injury claim than you would have ever received with just workers’ comp. After all, workers’ compensation will only provide for necessary medical treatments and can provide a portion of your wages if you are temporarily disabled.
To get a better understanding of your legal options after a workplace accident, it is always helpful to talk with a local workers’ compensation attorney. If you live in Santa Clarita or Glendale, California, the Law Offices of Wax & Wax would like to hear from you after you were hurt at work while on or off your lunch break. Call (818) 946-0608 to connect with our friendly professionals today and schedule a free consultation.