Safety and OSHA News

Fell, injured after clocking out: Did she get workers’ comp?

This employee had clocked out after her shift and was leaving her workplace when she slipped, fell and was injured. She applied for workers’ comp benefits. Did a court grant them? 

Geraldine Tress was a part-time cashier for Wegmans Food Markets in Pennsylvania.

One day when her shift as a cashier in the café section ended, Tress walked across the store to the time clock, clocked out and retrieved her purse from her locker. Then she walked back toward the café to pick up a burger at the pub (near the café) on her way out of the store.

On her way back to the café area a few minutes after clocking out, Tress stepped on a slippery spot on the floor, slipped and fell.

She suffered an open fracture of her left forearm and wrist that required surgery. Tress was hospitalized for four days and was unable to return to her job for several months.

She applied for workers’ comp disability benefits. Wegmans denied the claim.

A Workers’ Compensation Judge heard the case and granted Tress benefits. Wegmans appealed, and the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the judge’s decision. A state court recently issued a decision in another appeal by Wegmans.

Was she on a personal errand?

Wegmans argued Tress wasn’t in the course of her employment when she fell. Instead, she was on a personal errand – picking up a burger at the store pub.

Pennsylvania’s workers’ comp law says injuries in the course of employment include:

“All injuries caused by the condition of the premises … sustained by the employee, who, though not so engaged, is injured upon the premises occupied by or under the control of the employer.”

So, an injury is work-related:

  • even if the employee wasn’t furthering the employer’s business at the time
  • the injury occurred on the employer’s premises
  • the employee was required by the nature of their job to be on those premises, and
  • the injury was caused by a condition of the premises.

Tress’ fall occurred on Wegmans’ premises and was caused by a condition of the premises. So the only open question: Was Tress required by the nature of her job to be on the premises when she fell?

Wegmans argued Tress wasn’t required to be where she fell to perform her job or exit the store because she was on a personal errand.

But the court disagreed. It said the incident doesn’t have to occur at the employee’s work location.

“It is sufficient … if the claimant’s presence on the premises at the time of the accident remained so connected to the employment relationship that it was required by the nature of her employment,” the court wrote.

“Injuries that occur on the employer’s premises while the claimant is coming to or leaving work are in the course of employment if they occur within a reasonable period of time before or after the claimant’s work shift,” the court said.

What’s a reasonable period of time? The court noted previous rulings in which benefits were granted for an incident that happened up to 20 minutes after the end of an employee’s shift.

The state court upheld Tress’ workers’ comp benefits.

(Wegmans Food Markets v. TressCommonwealth Court of PA, No. 1343 C.D. 2017, 10/10/18)

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