Course of Employment and the Personal Comfort Doctrine

An employee injured in the course of employment is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, compensability may remain unaffected even if the injury occurred when the employee deviated from his specific job duties to engage in an activity that was purely personal in nature and solely for his own comfort. The personal comfort doctrine allows employees to slightly deviate from their job duties, within the usual time and space parameters of their employment, without losing workers’ compensation protection. It is generally understood that employees should be able to tend to their physical needs, such as using the restroom, getting a drink of water, or even taking a break to smoke, during the course of their employment.

The location of the personal comfort activity will often decide the compensability question. For example, an employee injured while taking his lunch break on the employer’s premises will be allowed compensation. On the other hand, if the injury occurred while the employee was eating lunch off the employer’s premises, compensation would likely be denied. Notably, however, the employer’s premises can be divided into two categories: those in which the employee may rightfully be present and those areas that the employee is restricted from accessing. Although the employee may be injured on the employer’s premises, if his injury occurs while he is present in an area where he has no right to be, compensation will usually be denied.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.