Off the clock & On the job – Is my employer responsible?

By Russ Haugen

There is a general assumption that work injuries must occur “at work” and “during regular work hours” in order for an individual to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in Illinois. Although this is generally true, there are many exceptions to this general assumption.

What happens if you are injured after you clock out from your shift? What happens if you are injured on your way into work? What happens if you are injured while on a lunch break or smoking break? As you can see, there are plenty of situations that test the bounds of this general assumption.

One situation that finds itself outside this general assumption is when a person is injured in a parking lot while going into or leaving work. Although this type of injury could be considered not “at work” or not “during regular work hours” it is an injury that could qualify a person for Illinois workers’ compensation benefits. However, in order for this to be true, there are several factors that must exist:

1) There has to be some relationship between the parking lot and the employment. This does not mean that the employer has to own the lot; rather, it means that the employer must have some control or direction over the area. If your employer does not own the parking area but pays for part of the maintenance and upkeep, this would be enough to show an employment relationship.

2) The injury must occur within a reasonable time before or after work. However, the Illinois courts have not established a bright line rule as to what is a reasonable time before or after work. In one case, an employee slipped and fell on ice in his employer’s parking lot approximately one hour before his shift started. This was determined to be a work-related injury because he customarily arrived at work an hour early each day. However, in a case that was decided in favor of the employer, an employee went to a nearby bar after work, and upon returning to her car several hours later she slipped and fell. The courts decided that the three hour gap between the end of work and the injury was too long to relate the fall to the employment.

3) The injury must be caused by a defective condition or hazard that exists on the premises. In many cases, the injury is caused by icy or snowy conditions that exist on the parking lot. However, injuries that are caused by defective curbs or dangerous potholes can also be included.

4) The employee must show that their employment put them at an increased risk of injury. In cases where the injury occurs in a lot that is only accessible to the employees, the increased risk element can be easily satisfied. However, this element is challenged when the general public has access to the parking lot. If the employee can show that their employer directed or limited them to certain areas where they could park, the increased risk element will most likely be satisfied. For example, a restaurant employee was injured when she slipped and fell on ice in her employer’s parking lot. The Illinois courts determined this was a workers’ compensation injury because the employer instructed all the employees to park in the back of the lot. By directing the employees where to park, the employer put them at an increased risk of injury.

As you can see, there are many factors in determining whether these types of injuries can be considered workers’ compensation accidents. As such, these are some of the most highly contested and disputed cases in Illinois workers’ compensation law. Contacting an attorney who practices in workers’ compensation law is your best option in fighting these types of claims.

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Off the clock & On the job – Is my employer responsible?