Does An Injury Suffered on Break or Lunch Qualify for Workers’ Compensation?

An injury at work may happen at any time and employees who are injured on the job are usually entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Additionally, complexities may arise in certain situations, including those that involve injuries that happened off the clock or during a break.

About Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation is an insurance program that covers employees who sustain injuries on the job or develop illnesses related to the job. State laws dictate the requirements for employers who operate in their states. Some states require all employers that have at least one employee to have workers’ compensation. Others only require employers to carry the insurance if they have a certain minimum number of employees, such as three, five or fifteen. Some states require employers to purchase a workers’ compensation policy from a state-sanctioned insurance provider while others allow the employer to self-insure after showing the financial ability to do so.

When an employee files a workers’ compensation claim, he or she does not have to show that the employer was at fault. This makes it easier for the injured employee to recover financial compensation. The employer benefits because employees that are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits are generally prohibited from filing a personal injury claim against the employer so monetary payouts are limited and the employer is not as exposed.

Requirements for Coverage

In order for an employee to be covered for an injury, the injury must arise out and be within the course of employment. The important inquiries into these claims is whether the employee was performing job-related duties at the time of the accident and that the cause of the accident is linked to the risk on the job. The “course of employment” language is most relevant when determining whether break or lunch time injuries are covered. Courts look at the time and place of employment. They also look at what the employee was doing at the time of the injury.


These claims often rely on determining whether the employee was acting in the employer’s interest or his or her own interest. If the employee was completing an errand or activity at the employer’s request or in furtherance of the employer’s interests, the claim is generally compensable. In contrast, if the employee left the job site to run a personal errand or to get something to eat and was injured, this injury is likely not compensable as it is not within the scope of employment.

In some cases, the employee is acting on both the interests of the employer and employee. For example, an employee may be asked to pick up some more copy paper and toner during the lunch hour while he or she also gets lunch. When there are mixed interests at play, courts often distinguish between detours and frolics to determine if the personal trip was only a slight deviation that would still allow for compensation or a major derailment from the employer’s interest so that the injury should not be compensable.

Some states allow for a more liberal view on this topic and provide coverage for claims associated with lunch or break activities if the activity is one that is usually completed during a work lunch or break, such as acquiring food poisoning while eating at the employer’s cafeteria or getting burned. Claims based on injuries that occurred because of engagement in activities that are not generally performed during a work break are not compensable in states that have adopted this perspective.

Location of Injury

While the location where the injury occurred may be considered in determining whether a particular claim is compensable, this is not usually dispositive. Even if a worker was injured away from the office or normal job site, he or she may still be covered under workers’ compensation.

Legal Assistance

Even in states where off the clock injuries that occur during lunch, breaks or business travel are covered, claims may be initially denied. Injured workers may wish to consult with a workers’ compensation lawyer to learn about the particular rules in the state where workers’ compensation coverage will apply. A lawyer can help protect the injured worker’s rights and pursue workers’ compensation benefits on the worker’s behalf. If the worker’s claim is initially denied, a workers’ compensation lawyer can help with the appeals process.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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