By Leandro Alhambra
In order to receive workers’ compensation benefits for a work injury one must prove that the injury “arose out of” and “in the course of” one’s employment. But what happens if an injury is sustained while the employee is on a break and not necessarily performing a job duty or an act that benefits the employer?
Illinois Courts have adopted the Personal Comfort Doctrine, which provides purely personal activities to be brought within the scope of one’s employment. Examples of these activities include lunch breaks, short breaks for eating, drinking, using the restroom, smoking, obtaining fresh air and seeking relief from cold/heat.
However, there are some limitations to the application of the Personal Comfort Doctrine. The activity must be reasonable and the employee must not expose oneself to a risk outside any reasonable exercise of his duties. In determining whether an activity was “reasonable” the Courts will look to the location of the accident, whether the activity was authorized, regular and normally accepted. For example, in Eagle Discount Supermarket v. Industrial Comm’n, 412 N.E.2d 492 (1980), the Courts awarded benefits to the claimant, who was injured playing Frisbee on the employer’s parking lot during his unpaid lunch break. Although the act of playing Frisbee may be considered a risk outside a reasonable exercise of his duties, the Courts noted that the activity was a routine lunch break activity which, the employer knew of and acquiesced to (claimant’s supervisor turned the lights on in the lot so the game could be played and had previously participated). Thus, the Courts determined that the game of Frisbee was an act of personal comfort that was reasonably incidental to employment.
However, in Karastamatis v. Industrial Comm’n 713 N.E.2d 161 (1st Dist. 1999), the Courts denied benefits where the claimant sustained an injury to her leg while dancing at a church picnic during a break. The claimant was hired to setup the tents, clean and stock supplies and food. The Courts held that the claimant was not hired to dance and therefore the risk of injury from dancing was not incidental to her employment.
If your employer claims that you are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits because you were injured while on break or for any other reason, do not simply take their word for it! The best course of action to take is to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.