Most injuries that people suffer from are clear-cut in terms of whether they qualify for workers’ compensation. The person who strains their back lifting a box at the office clearly qualifies; the person who breaks their leg while on vacation clearly does not.
However, there’s also a wide range of injuries where the “at work” or “off work” questions are not as black-and-white. You may qualify for workers’ comp for offsite injuries, but certain circumstances have to be met.
Let’s first step back and consider the 3 broad criteria that determine eligibility under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
- The injury must take place within the period of employment
- The injury must occur at a place where the employee might reasonably be as a fulfillment of their duties
- The injury must take place while fulfilling those duties or something incidental to them
Examples of offsite work injuries:
Sometimes, work injuries can happen while offsite. Here are some examples.
- The employee of an insurance company has been sent to a seminar on billing questions and on the way, there’s a car accident. Even though commuting is generally not considered to be within the scope of employment, this would be different. The employee was specifically sent by the employer to the seminar and the injury occurred within the course of that activity.
- Now let’s say that the same insurance seminar lasts for 3 days and the employee has been put up at a hotel. In the course of going to and from their room, they sprain an ankle. Is this covered? Generally, it will be. While it could be argued that the walk to and fro constituted the “commute,” so to speak, it’s more likely that this will be determined as something “incidental” to the performance of actual work duties.
- Still at the same seminar, the employee wants to go out with a few other people for a drink. On the walk to the bar that’s a couple blocks away, they suffer an ankle sprain. Now, the circumstances make it unlikely there will be workers’ compensation coverage.
- The company has a picnic and a softball game is a part of the festivities. You participate and in the course of the game, you’re injured. Are you covered? In all likelihood, yes. Being at the picnic was probably either required by your employer or at least given the appearance of being required. Playing softball was a natural, “incidental” part of that.
- What if, at that same picnic, you drink more alcohol than what a reasonable person would consider responsible? You get into that same softball game and suffer the same injury. Now, you might have a problem. Being under the influence of alcohol is a major no-no for any type of workers’ compensation claim. Your employer might face a different set of problems for allowing you to be served that much alcohol to begin with, but that’s another matter entirely.
- Take the same scenario above, except make it a Happy Hour on Friday where your employer or direct supervisor was present. You don’t really want to go, but do so to make a good impression. In the course of going to the restroom, you twist an ankle. You’re almost certainly going to be out of luck here. An informal bar outing is not going to get the same weight as a formal company picnic. You’ll be considered off the job.
- You work for a construction company and while driving between job sites, suffer an accident. This would be an easy call—you were driving in the course of your employment and suffered the injury. Yes, you can collect compensation.
- On the morning commute, you get a call from your supervisor. While in the midst of the conversation, you get into a car accident. Even though commutes are generally not covered by workers’ comp, this will likely be an exception. The decision of the supervisor to call you indicates that you were now within the scope of employment when the accident occurred.
Every situation is different. Every contested claim is ruled on by a different human being with different perceptions, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But these scenarios outline some clear principles and how they function in the messiness of the real world.