Under NJ workers’ comp law when is an injury in the course of employment
For an injury to be covered under New Jersey workers’ compensation law, it must occur in the course of employment. Many believe that determining if an injury has occurred “in the course of employment” is simple. The workday starts when an employee arrives at his or her place of employment and ends when he or she leaves that place. And, if one is injured during this period of time, it is considered a workplace injury.
Of course, injuries sustained while skiing on a personal vacation or shopping at the mall on the weekend with family are not considered to be work injuries. However, it is not always that clear cut. In fact, over the years New Jersey courts have seen many battles over this subject. A detailed inquiry into the facts leading up to these accidents is always necessary.
The going-and-coming rule
Generally, an employee is not considered to be working during his or her commute from home to work and from work to home. But, when does the commute from home to work end and when does the commute from work to home begin?
Determining the beginning of a workday and the end of a workday is often unclear under New Jersey workers’ compensation laws. For example, if an employee is injured in the common lobby of a building shared by the employer and other business entities, has the worker suffered an injury covered under New Jersey workers’ compensation law?
Similarly, if an employee is injured in the employee parking lot, has he or she suffered a covered injury? What if the parking lot where the worker is injured is not an employee parking lot?
The courts often look to the amount of “control” the employer has over these areas in determining if the injury falls within the purview of the workers’ compensation system. The more control an employer has over a particular area, the more likely the accident will be considered a work injury.
Some employees do not work at fixed premises controlled by their employers. Off- premises employees are to be compensated for injuries sustained in direct performance of their job responsibilities. For example, a driver for a takeout restaurant who is involved in a motor vehicle accident while making a delivery is considered to have been involved in a work injury for purposes of workers’ comp.
Deviations from work by off-premises employees
If an injury occurs off work premises during a personal activity that is a major deviation from one’s job, the injury is not covered under New Jersey workers’ compensation laws. Major deviations from work activities are often called “personal missions.” Examples of a “personal mission” are a visit to a travel agent or a shopping excursion during lunch.
However, if an employee is injured during a personal activity that is only a minor deviation from work, then the injury is covered. New Jersey courts have found that employees are allowed to take care of certain basic needs while at work like lunch, coffee breaks, and phone calls to babysitters and doctors.
There is a fine line between a major deviation from work activity and a minor deviation from work activity. For example, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that injuries sustained by an employee while getting his personal mail from the post office located along his work route was a major deviation from work and not compensable.
On the other hand, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court found that an injury sustained by an employee while driving to a deli for coffee during work hours was only a minor deviation from work.
An injury suffered by an employee during paid travel time is compensable if the employee is doing work authorized by his or her employer. For example, injuries sustained by a lawyer during his drive to a real estate closing were found compensable under workers’ compensation laws. However, an employee who is reimbursed for travel expenses and is injured during his commute to or from work is not covered under New Jersey workers’ compensation.
Get legal counsel
This article only provides an introduction to the detailed and complex concept of determining when an injury has occurred “in the course of employment” and therefore falls within the purview of the New Jersey workers’ compensation system. Any New Jerseyan who is injured at work or in any employment-related situation should talk to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible about the details. The lawyer can explain and pursue rights to workers’ compensation benefits when appropriate.