COFFEE BREAKS VERSUS LUNCH BREAKS

The Workers’ Compensation Law makes an important distinction between a “lunch break” and a “coffee break.” 

In general, injuries that occur during a lunch break off the employer’s property are not covered by workers’ comp, even if the worker is being paid for the time.  Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule.  Workers whose job involves travel to different locations and who have to get lunch somewhere along the way are generally covered while at lunch – as long as they haven’t deviated substantially from their work route.  And a worker who is injured while entering or leaving the employer’s property for lunch might be covered by workers’ comp depending on a variety of factors.

On the other hand, injuries that occur during a coffee break generally are covered by workers’ comp.  Unlike a lunch break, a coffee break is a brief interruption of the employment that a worker is usually permitted to take without clocking out.  In essence, a coffee break is generally treated the same way as a bathroom break or a trip to the office water cooler – even though the worker is not performing work-related duties, they are still considered to be “at work” and thus covered by workers’ compensation. Needless to say, the result of any particular claim depends on its unique facts:  the nature of the employment, the physical layout of the employer’s property in relation to where the accident happened, the employer’s past practices, how close to the employer’s property the accident happened, the length of time of the break, the purpose of the break, and more.

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