A worker who is injured on the job and cannot work for a period of time (or indefinitely) is eligible for workers' compensation benefits. These payments allow an injured employee to meet daily living expenses while unable to earn work income. But what happens if the injury occurred on the job but was not specifically related to job duties? Does an injury such as cutting oneself while preparing lunch constitute a workplace injury? What about when a worker's injury is caused by doing something recreational while on company property during a lunch break?
One recent case originating out of Penn State University sheds light on these questions. The employee, who was a housekeeper and cook, was injured while jumping down stairs while heading off the property to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant. A workers' compensation judge initially granted the employee's workers' compensation request. The university contested the decision through the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board and the original decision was overturned. The employee appealed to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
Pennsylvania law on workers' compensation holds that an employee must be in furtherance of the employer's business when injured in order to receive workers' comp. Previous cases have found that employees who remain on the work premises for their lunch break are generally in furtherance of the employer's business. The only exception is if the activity is "wholly foreign to their employment" as the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court summarized in its ruling.
The court determined that jumping down stairs on a lunch break is foreign to the worker's job. The decision was not unanimous, however: a dissenting judge felt that according to previous Pennsylvania case law, recreational breaks at work that allow an employee personal comfort further the employer's business because they allow better overall job performance.
Unfortunately for the Penn State worker, this case resulted in a denial of his workers' compensation claim. However, the gray area highlighted in this case goes to show that an experienced attorney is essential when your workers' compensation claim is denied. If you have been injured at work or denied workers' compensation benefits, contact a knowledgeable workers' comp lawyer immediately.