Almost every morning, you get up, you drive to work, and you clock in. Almost every evening you clock out, you drive home, and you go to bed. Then you repeat the process the next day, and the next, and the next . . .
On most days, this seamless process stays fairly uneventful. But what about those unexpected days? Those days where one small action changes your life? Perhaps you decide to buy pizza for your boss to celebrate their birthday, but then you get hit by a car outside of the restaurant. Maybe you stop by the company basketball court during your lunch break to socialize with your coworkers, but a stray ball breaks your nose.
Are you still covered for worker's compensation?
Understanding Employer Liability
Worker's compensation covers work-related injuries or illnesses. When you're on the clock, you can receive compensation, which includes payment for 100% of your medical treatment, lost work pay, and if needed a permanent disability award and vocational assistance.
However, "work-related" can be a tricky rule at best. Most states, including Oregon, have a "going and coming" rule or a "portal to portal" rule. Under this law, worker's compensation coverage doesn't begin until the employee arrives at the workplace, and it ends when he or she leaves the office at the end of the day.
Consequently, lunch breaks and daily commutes may, or may not, qualify for compensation, even if you're on your way to the workplace. So if you twist your ankle outside the deli during your lunch break or if you carpooled with your coworkers and were involved in an accident, your claim may be denied, and you likely will need the help of an attorney to figure out if you are covered.
Exceptions Do Apply
While worker's compensation doesn't usually cover injuries when you're off-the-clock, a few exceptions to this rule do exist. Depending on your situation, you might be able to receive compensation, even if you weren't at the office. Here are examples of some of the exceptions:
Sidewalks and Parking Lots
In many cases, your worker's compensation starts when you step foot on your employer's premises, not necessarily when you punch in on your time clock. These premises include sidewalks, parking lots, and grassy areas controlled by your employer. In a sense, these areas are an extension of the workplace.
So, if you slip and fall on an icy sidewalk your company neglected to maintain, you qualify for worker's compensation. It doesn't matter whether you clocked out just a few minutes before the incident.
If your employer requires you to perform a duty that directly benefits him or her, then you're still covered with worker's compensation.
For example, your boss wants you to attend a dinner with a new client. You stop by the restaurant, have a nice meal, and talk shop for an hour or two. But on your way home, a car runs a red light and crashes into your vehicle. Because you were doing a task that specifically benefited your employer, you would still qualify for worker's compensation.
However, this exception doesn't apply to all circumstances. Let's say you had a drink or two at the dinner, and you drove while intoxicated. Worker's compensation does not cover crime-related activity, which includes a DUI conviction. Even though you were doing a favor for your boss, you wouldn't receive compensation because of your misconduct.
You likely have a normal routine for your workday. Perhaps you clock in, check your email, file some documents, and attend a few meetings. Maybe you clock out at 1 p.m. for your lunch break, head to your nearest sandwich shop to pick up your favorite combo, and then head back to work at 2 p.m.
However, your boss asks you to drop off the mail during your lunch break, and pick up another sandwich and a coffee for him or her while you're at it. As you drive back to the office, you spill your boss' coffee all over your lap. The coffee was unusually hot, so you suffered severe burns.
Although you normally wouldn't receive compensation for injuries on your lunch break, your boss' extra mission would qualify you for compensation.
Your office may stay open during certain times of the day. Perhaps your typical shift starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. You clock in and clock out at these same times every day.
However, what if your work duties don't end when you clock out for the day?