When is an injury ‘on the job,’ and when isn’t it?

In New York, for an injury to qualify you for workers’ compensation, your injury must have occurred during the course of your employment. This makes sense; workers’ compensation exists to help people who get hurt or sick on the job.

But the line between “course of employment” and outside of your job’s duties is not always clear. Say you are hurt in a car accident. If you are a delivery driver, you will probably be approved for workers’ comp benefits. But if you were injured on your morning commute, you probably will not.

The line between work duties and non-work activities

The Appellate Division for the New York Supreme Court recently ruled on a case where a person filed for workers’ comp related to a car crash during a work function. The accident happened as the employee was on his way to lunch with his supervisor, who was driving the vehicle.

The employee suffered several injuries. When filing for workers’ comp, he argued that attending the meal at his supervisor’s request was obligatory, meaning he might have been punished if he had declined. Therefore, the worker said, riding in his supervisor’s car to a restaurant was part of his work duties.

But on appeal, the Appellate Division disagreed. The judges found that the evidence suggested the injured worker was not obligated to join the lunch with the supervisor and two co-workers. In addition, he was not paid for his lunch break. Therefore, the lunch — and the car ride — were not part of the worker’s course of employment, according to the Appellate Division.

Making your case for workers’ comp

As this ruling suggests, determining an injured worker’s course of employment is often a judgment call based on the evidence. If you were denied workers’ comp based on a dispute over your job duties, your attorney might be able to show on appeal how your injuries are tied to your course of employment.