I Thought We Were On A Break?

By: Kenny Bishop, Associate, Atlanta

Generally speaking, a Georgia Workers’ Compensation injury is compensable when an employee is injured while engaged in reasonable ingress or egress, and an injury is not compensable when an employee is injured while on a scheduled break. But what happens if an employee is injured while reasonably coming or going from a scheduled break? The Georgia Court of Appeals took up this issue in Frett v. State Farm in a decision so new that it is not yet published. The facts are undisputed. On the date of accident, Frett logged out for her scheduled lunch break, during which she was free to do as she pleased. She walked to the breakroom where she microwaved food. As she started to exit the breakroom to take her lunch outside the building, she slipped on water and fell, sustaining an injury.

Applying the scheduled break analysis, the Court of Appeals denied Frett’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The scheduled break exception holds that when an employee is free to do whatever the employee chooses during a scheduled break, the employee is not in the course and scope of employment. This includes when the employee remains on the employer’s premises.  In this case, the court indicated the employee’s injury did not arise out of her employment, but rather out of an individual pursuit; her lunch breaks were scheduled, and she was free to do as she pleased during that time.

But what about ingress and egress? The ingress and egress rule sets forth that an employee is in the course and scope of employment for a reasonable time period while the employee is on the employer’s premises preparing to begin or end work. The Court acknowledged that its application of the ingress and egress rule to the scheduled break exception had led to arbitrary results and explicitly disapproved of its prior decisions, specifically its decisions in Travelers Ins. Co. v. Smith, 91 Ga. App. 305, 309, 85 S.E.2d 484 (1954), Chandler v. Gen. Acc. Fire & Life Assur. Corp., 101 Ga. App. 597, 114 S.E.2d 438 (1960), and Rockwell v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 248 Ga. App. 73, 545 S.E.2d 121 (2001).  The Court reasoned that there is no precedent upon which to apply the ingress and egress rule to the scheduled break exception. As a result, unless the Georgia Supreme Court specifically rules otherwise, an employee injured on the employer’s premises during a scheduled break is not in the course and scope of employment and will not be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, even when the injury occurs while the employee is leaving from or returning to work for a scheduled break.

This is a favorable decision for the Employer/Insurer regarding breaks at work; however, the Court of Appeals made clear that it wishes for the Supreme Court to take the case to clarify the ingress/egress rule.  We hope that the Supreme Court will agree with the Court of Appeals, and we will keep you apprised of any updates concerning this issue. For now, if you see an opportunity to apply this case on one of your claims regarding unscheduled or scheduled breaks, use it!