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When Does Workers’ Comp Cover a Lunch-Break Injury?

To qualify for workers’ compensation, your injury has got to be work related. But what exactly does that mean if you’re injured during lunch or on one of your regularly scheduled breaks? The answer depends on the facts of your particular injury event.

California workers’ compensation law defines an injury as work related if it occurs “in the course of employment” (COE) and “arises out of employment” (AOE). A break-period injury can satisfy the COE requirement, because in the normal course of employment, workers stop for lunch and rest. But what of the AOE requirement? Generally speaking, the manner in which an employee takes lunch must confer a benefit on the employer or present risks that are specific to the job.

One thing to understand is that where you eat lunch or take your break matters. Courts have sided with injured workers who ate their lunches in company cafeterias or breakrooms, but against those who went out to a restaurant or even walked out to their car to eat a sandwich there. The courts reason that eating lunch or taking a rest break on site in a designated area confers a benefit on the employer, because it allows workers to return to work in a timely fashion, keeps them out of the way of ongoing operations, and allows supervisors to find them easily if an urgent matter comes up. Workers eating off site do not benefit the employer, so they are generally not covered.

What you eat also matters. Suppose your injury is from food poisoning or choking. If you bought your food in the company commissary, you are covered, because your injury resulted from risks that arose from eating the company’s food. If you brought your lunch from home and choked while eating it, you created your own risk. Without other facts linking your injury to the workplace, you are probably not covered.

Break-time injuries can be tricky from a legal standpoint, so you definitely want to consult a knowledgeable workers’ comp attorney. To schedule a free consultation with the Tous Law Group, call 714-602-4473 or contact our Orange County office online.

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