consultant for law firmsIt is clear that any employee injured at work is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. New Jersey state law dictates that in order for a claim to succeed, the worker “must prove that his or her injury arose out of and in the course of employment” (N.J.S.A. 34:15-7). In the majority of cases, this is quite easy to prove because the injury most obviously occurred on the job site, while the employee was completing assigned job duties. For example, a medical worker pulls out his back while lifting and moving a patient. Or, an electrician sustains a burn while installing wires. But in some cases, the qualifications of a “work-related” injury are not quite so simple.

What really qualifies as an injury that occurred “out of and in the course of employment” is not always cut and dry. For example, maybe the employee was not on workplace property, but was completing a task to benefit the employer when they became injured. Or maybe the employee was technically on the clock, but was not completing assigned job duties when an accident occurred. The following blog will discuss what qualifies an  injury as “work related” and look at some of the gray areas.

Just because it is not immediately obvious that an injury is work-related, does not mean the employee is ineligible to receive benefits. It just means the injured party will need to work a little harder to prove it. If your injury falls within any of the gray areas listed below, it is especially recommended that you consult with a workers’ compensation attorney regarding your situation. A skilled lawyer will gather evidence, witnesses, and build a case for you in order to prove that the injury should be considered work-related.

Straightforward Areas of Work-Related Injuries

  • Company Events: Many large employers hold annual events such as barbecues, parties, or sports games. Any injury occurring at company sponsored events such are covered under workers’ compensation.
  • Employee Caused Injury: New Jersey is a “no-fault” state for workers’ compensation, which means an injured worker does not need to prove fault to be eligible for benefits. Even if the incident was partly or entirely the fault of the worker, he or she is still covered.
  • Pre-existing Conditions: Any pre-existing conditions do not prevent an injured worker from receiving benefits. The employee is still eligible even if the injury was due in part to prior medical condition.

The Gray Areas of Work-Related Injuries

Personal Tasks

Example: A postal worker visits a friend during working hours, and has a slip and fall.

Coverage of personal tasks during work hours depends on whether it is considered a major or minor deviation from job duties. New Jersey courts have ruled that employees are permitted to complete basic personal tasks (minor deviations) during work hours and still be covered under workers’ compensation. Some examples of minor deviations are lunch breaks, coffee runs, and phone calls to doctors. However, any injuries sustained during a major deviation from job duties are not covered. Major deviations are often called “personal missions” and may include such things as a visit to a shopping mall or post office. Major and minor deviations are up to interpretation by a judge.

Routine Commutes

Example: Office worker is involved in a car accident while traveling to work.

Any injuries sustained while on a routine commute to and from work do not qualify as work-related.

New Jersey state law reads:  “Employment shall be deemed to commence when an employee arrives at employer’s place of employment to report for work and shall terminate when the employee leaves the place of employment” (N.J.S.A 34:15).

In other words, once you walk through the door at the start of a work day, you are covered under workers’ compensation. Once you walk out at the door at the end of the day, you are no longer covered. This is known as the “coming and going” rule.

Job Duties Off Company Property

Example: A construction worker is picking up materials on the clock at the direction of his supervisor, and has a slip and fall at the store.

However, there are many exceptions to the “coming and going”  rule. For example, if an employee leaves the workplace to complete assigned company business and is injured, they will be covered.

New Jersey state law reads: “When the employee is required by the employer to be away from employer’s place of employment, the employee shall be deemed to be in the course of employment when the employee is engaged in the direct performance of duties assigned or directed by the employer” (N.J.S.S 34:20).

In other words, any injuries sustained while off property, but on official company business, are considered work-related. This is known as the “special mission” exception.

Travelling For Work

Example: An estate lawyer is involved in a car accident while traveling to an estate sale.

carTravelling for work is another exception to the “coming and going” rule. Travel to and from off-site job assignments is covered if the employee is driving a company-owned vehicle or are specifically paid for travel time.

New Jersey law says: “but the employment… of any employee who utilizes an employer authorized vehicle shall commence and terminate with the time spent traveling to and from a job site or the authorized operation of a vehicle on business authorized by employer” (N.J.S.A 34:30).

In other words, anytime and employee is paid to be  traveling to or from off-site job duties, or they are driving a company vehicle while traveling, it is likely any injuries will be covered under workers’ compensation. This is known as the “travel time” exception.

Parking Lots

Example: A medical worker has a slip and fall occurs while walking in the parking lot from work to her car.

Parking lots are another gray area because this is considered off of the job site. If an employee is injured in the parking lot before they check into work or after leaving work, workers’ compensation eligibility varies. The injury will not be covered if the employee is allowed to park wherever he or she wants.

However, if the employer dictates where the employee parks, any injuries are covered beginning when he or she arrives at that location. Even if the employer just dictates a general location, rather than a specific spot, injuries are still covered. For example. a department store that requires employees to park at the back of the lot so customers can park at the front.