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Georgia Court of Appeals Clarifies Workers' Compensation Scheduled Break Exception

Georgia
September 12, 2019
April 25, 2019
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The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently ruled in the Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers Compensation matter that the “ingress and egress rule” does not apply to an employee leaving the employer’s premises on a scheduled lunch break.  In its opinion, the Court of Appeals determined that existing case law regarding the intersection of the “ingress and egress rule” with the “scheduled break exception” created arbitrary results, and thus clarified the law for future claims.

In the instant case, Rochelle Frett was an insurance claims associate for State Farm.  Ms. Frett had a mandatory, unpaid 45 minute lunch break each day for which she was required to log off the employer’s phone system.  Ms. Frett was free to do as she pleased on her break and could leave the office for lunch if she wished.  She was not asked, nor expected, to perform any job duties during this break.  

Ms. Frett often took her own lunch to work, preparing her food in the employee breakroom.  In the spring and summer, she would sit outside of the building on a bench or eat in her car.  On the date of the accident, Ms. Frett had logged off the phone system, microwaved her food and was in the process of exiting the employee breakroom when she slipped and fell.

Initially, Ms. Frett was awarded workers’ compensation benefits by the administrative law judge, who relied upon the “ingress and egress rule” which states that an employee is in the course and scope of employment for a reasonable time period while the employee is on the employer’s premises preparing to begin or end work.

However, the State Board of Workers’ Compensation reversed the judge’s decision, determining that Ms. Frett’s injury did not arise out of her employment because it occurred while she was on a regularly scheduled break. The “scheduled break exception” holds that an employee is not within the course and scope of employment when an employee is free to do whatever the employee chooses during a scheduled break (making the break personal to them) even when the employee remains on the employer’s premises.

The Board’s decision was affirmed by the Superior Court of Dekalb County and upheld on appeal.  The Court of Appeals of Georgia was of the opinion that no precedent existed upon which the “ingress and egress rule” should be applied to the “scheduled break exception”.

Therefore, an employee injured on the employer’s premises during a regularly scheduled break will not be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits, even when the injury occurs while the employee is leaving from or returning to work from that scheduled break.