When an employee is hired, they make an unspoken agreement not to sue their employer for work-related injuries and, in turn, the employer agrees to provide workers’ compensation benefits regardless of fault.
But does that same agreement apply when an employee takes a break?
The highest court in Georgia recently took on this question in an important case.
The case: Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers’ Compensation
Rochelle Frett left for the breakroom after clocking out to take her scheduled lunch break. She prepared her meal, then slipped and fell in water on her way outside to eat. She filed a workers’ compensation claim, and the courts got involved.
Often, claimants filing for a work injury cannot receive compensation on their way to or from the workplace.
However, the exception to this is the “ingress/egress” rule. The hearing judge ruled that Ms. Frett’s claim was compensable under that exception. The Appellate Division then reversed the ruling, and the Superior Court affirmed the reversal.
The Georgia Court of Appeals determined “ingress/egress” was part of the break and not a commute to and from the workplace. It also found that the “ingress or egress” allowance did not apply to a break; therefore, the entire break was not compensable.
The Court of Appeals’ decision rested on the fact that Frett wasn’t under her supervisor’s control during the break and was “free to do as she pleased,” which doesn’t warrant compensability. Despite this ruling, the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Georgia recognized that the law involving the rest break defense was vague and needed to be amended.
After much debate, the Supreme Court ruled on June 16, 2020 that Frett’s injury was indeed compensable and shouldn’t have been automatically dismissed just because it occurred during a scheduled break.
According to the Court, because Ms. Frett was an employee who was injured on her employer’s premises, her injury was compensable.
Another case: Ocean Accident & Guarantee Corp. v. Farr
A case similar to Frett’s occurred 85 years ago when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ocean Corp.
Ocean Corp. employee Mr. Farr fell as he made his way to the boiler room where he planned to take his lunch. He was off the clock for a scheduled break, and the Court ruled that his injuries were non-compensable.
The Supreme Court’s more recent decision in the Frett case effectively overruled Farr, but the Court emphasized “the lack of payment and freedom to act may be significant factors in close cases, where the nature and timing of the employee’s activity at the time of the injury are only tenuously connected to her usual work hours or work-related activities.”
Essentially, this means cases similar to Frett and Farr will receive fact-based, case-by-case analyses as to whether the injury “[arose] out of and in the course of” employment versus denying the claim automatically because an employee is taking their scheduled break while on the premises.
While the issue isn’t completely resolved, it has been brought to the Court’s attention and will hopefully open doors for further debate. Meanwhile, Georgia workers can rest assured that their cases will, at the very least, be heard and not automatically dismissed if they get injured during a scheduled break at work.
What should you do if you’re injured on the job?
Georgians who’ve suffered from injuries in the workplace should immediately report the injury to their supervisor. If their injury is dismissed by the employer, they’re entitled to seek legal advice. The attorneys at Gerber & Holder won’t brush your claim aside. We’ll sit down with you and discuss your options and what filing a workers’ compensation claim looks like.