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Workers’ comp gets tricky when injuries occur during break time

In the state of California, workers are entitled to benefits, including medical expenses and lost wages, if they are injured while working. To many individuals, this seems pretty straightforward—something that should not cause much contention or dispute.

Unfortunately, it does.

A case-in-point involves workers injured during lunch breaks. They aren’t “working on the job” during this time (and thus not entitled to benefits in the event of an injury), or are they?

The answer depends on the circumstances.

What needs to happen to collect workers compensation benefits in California?

In the state of California, in order to be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, a “work injury” must:

  1. Occur in the course of employment, and
  2. Arise out of employment

But what does this mean? Here’s how California courts have interpreted both meanings in relation to rest breaks.

Rest periods ARE part of the course of employment

A rest period is considered part of the job and employees are legally entitled to breaks after working for a certain time. Therefore, injuries that occur during a break period thus occur in the “course of employment” for purposes of workers’ comp benefit entitlement.

Rest periods MAY arise out of employment

Courts have interpreted the phrase, “arise out of employment,” to generally mean that something must benefit the employer.

It seems as though, according to the courts, the location where employees take their lunch break determines whether they are entitled to workers’ comp benefits in the event they suffer an injury.

For instance, employees who opt to go out to eat at a restaurant for lunch would not be covered if they were injured. Alternately, employees who decide to stay on campus and eat in the employee cafeteria are covered if an injury were to occur. But why?

According to the courts, staying on the workplace premises “benefits” the employer because workers are on the employer’s property where the risk of hazard or injury likely decreases. Workers are also able to be supervised and found it needed.

Is your workplace injury covered?

In a nutshell, it seems as though workers taking a break or having lunch on the employer’s premise and get injured are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

However, there are so many other factors and intricate areas of the law that could play a part in your qualification.


If you were injured during a break, consulting with a California legal professional is a great first step. A lawyer who knows the ins-and-outs of the workers’ comp laws and procedures can analyze your case and determine if you are covered. And, if you are, he or she can discuss the steps to take to receive benefits.

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