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Worker Injured a ‘Reasonable Time’ After Shift Ends Is Covered, Virginia Panel Says

June 1, 2023

A worker who fell and injured herself while walking to the restroom after completing her shift as a convenience store clerk was still in the course of her employment when she fell and thus she is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for her injury.

Even quickly playing the lottery before she headed to the restroom did not alter Brenda Rankin’s eligibility for workers’ compensation, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) concluded in reversing and remanding a deputy commissioner’s denial.

The WCC deputy commissioner had denied Rankin’s claim in holding that her fall did not occur in the course of her employment because it happened after she “remained on the premises to perform a purely personal act,” when she played the lottery after she clocked out.

To be compensable, Virginia law requires that an injury by accident must arise out of and in the course of employment. The phrase “arising out of” refers to the origin or cause of the injury while the language “in the course of” relates to the time, place, and circumstances under which the accident occurred.

“[A]n accident occurs in the ‘course of employment’ when it takes place within the period of employment, at a place where the employee may be reasonably expected to be, and while he is reasonably fulfilling the duties of his employment or is doing something that is reasonably incidental thereto,” the commission wrote in quoting a 1969 Virginia Supreme Court case, Brown v. Reed, one of three cases the commission referenced in explaining its latest ruling.

“Employment includes not only the actual doing of the work, but a reasonable margin of time and space necessary to be used in passing to and from the place where the work is to be done,” the state high court wrote in Brown, where it held that the plaintiff’s common law action against another employee was barred by the provisions of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act because the accident arose out of and in the course of the employment. Brown was injured when he was struck by another employee’s vehicle as he was walking across the employer’s parking lot to begin his workday. The Supreme Court held that the common law action was barred because both parties were engaging in behavior anticipated by the employer.

In a second case, Briley v. Farm Fresh, Inc. in 1990, a cake decorator in the Farm Fresh bakery department fell after she had completed her shift while doing some personal shopping in the store. The Supreme Court rejected Briley’s assertion that she should be permitted to maintain her personal injury action against the store and held that her injury was covered by the workers’ compensation act because it occurred in the course of her employment on the employer’s premises. Noting that she made a “relatively brief deviation from a direct departure” from the employer’s premises, the court said it did not recognize a concept of “instantaneous exit” from a place of employment immediately upon termination of work. “An employee has a reasonable time after concluding work to absent herself from the employer’s premises,” the court concluded in citing the earlier Brown case.

In a third case, Lopez-Arias v. Shoppers Food Warehouse/Supervalu, a WCC decision affirmed by the Court of Appeals 2010, the claimant’s accident occurred as she was eating breakfast in an area of the store designated as the public cafeteria, about 15 minutes before the beginning of her work shift. The WCC held the “claimant’s injury arose in the course of her employment, because it occurred on the employer’s premises, and she was engaging in anticipated behavior, which was beneficial to the employer and reasonably incidental to her employment.”

The WCC has now found that Rankin was in a similar situation to Brown, Briley, and Lopez-Arias as her injury occurred on the employer’s premises, and she was engaged in anticipated behavior as she was walking to the restroom at the time of her fall.

The commission said that “merely playing the lottery at her place of employment, prior to using the restroom” was not a “personal frolic” that would take Rankin out of the course of her employment. “The claimant fell as she walked to the restroom on the premises, before her departure from work, and she remained in the course of her employment,” the WCC concluded in overturning the denial and awarding benefits.

Topics Workers' Compensation Virginia

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