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When is an Employee “On the Clock” But Not in the Course and Scope of Employment?

New Jersey Supreme Court Issues New Opinion Defining “On the Clock” Employees

New Jersey
April 16, 2024
April 16, 2024

In Keim v. Above All Termite & Pest Control, the New Jersey Supreme Court specifically set out rules defining when employment starts and stops under N.J.S.A. 34:15-36. They held that this section of the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act contains four specific rules: the premises rule, the special mission rule, the paid time travel rule, and the authorized vehicle rule.

The aspects of the rules are as follows:

  1. The premises rule states that employment starts when the employee arrives at the place of employment to report for work and stops when the employee leaves those premises not under the control of his or her employer.  This rule includes/encompasses the “going and coming rule.”
  2. The special mission rule applies to employees who have been assigned work away from their employer’s premises. This rule furthers the employer’s business interests outside of their premises.  
  3. The paid travel time rule concerns situations where the employee is paid a distinct amount of compensation to go to and/or from a destination.  If the employee is paid to travel, this rule establishes that they were in the course and scope of employment.
  4. The authorized vehicle rule states that an employee is in the course and scope of operating a vehicle while performing the employer’s authorized business at the time of injury.  Ownership of the vehicle does not matter.  It is the conducting of authorized business while operating the vehicle that controls it.

In a recent unpublished opinion, in Latshaw v. Lakewood Township Police Department, the Superior Court found that a police dispatcher who was paid for her meal breaks was NOT in the course and scope when she left the station for a meal break and was injured while driving to a restaurant.  Even though she was “on the clock” or being paid during this meal break, both the trial court and the appellate court found that, when she left the station, the petitioner did not satisfy any of the four rules above to place her within the course and scope of her employment.

It’s important to remember that simply because an employee may be “on the clock” or getting paid when they were injured, that is not the defining circumstance for whether they are in the course and scope of their employment. It is crucial to investigate not only whether the injured employee was being paid at the time they got hurt, but also whether what they were doing at that time meets one of the four rules set out by the Keim court.