Employee Hurt on Smoke Break Awarded Workers' Comp Benefits
December 10, 2010
A nursing assistant injured in a fall while returning from a cigarette break to a mandatory work meeting is entitled to workers' compensation benefits, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Dec. 9.
Court records in Jonesboro Care and Rehab Center v. Ronna Woods state that in October 2008, Woods attended a mandatory work seminar and was required to wait afterward for her paycheck.
She had to clock in for the seminar and could not clock out until she received her check, court records indicate. Before lining up for her check, Woods stepped outside into a designated smoking area.
With a lighted cigarette in hand, Woods fell on concrete pavement, fracturing her left arm as she walked over to a trash can to discard her chewing gum on her way back to the meeting area.
She filed a workers' compensation claim seeking medical and temporary total disability benefits. Her employer, Jonesboro Care and Rehab Center, contested the claim, but an administrative law judge found the claimant was performing employment services at the time of her injury.
A Workers' Compensation Commission upheld the judge's finding, but an appeals court overturned the decision and Woods appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Woods' employer argued that when she fell she was taking a personal break that did not directly or indirectly advance the care center's interest.
Woods argued that she was at a mandatory meeting and on the clock.
According to Arkansas law, the only issue for the state Supreme Court to decide was whether substantial evidence existed to support the commission's decision.
The high court determined that a reasonable person could reach the same conclusion as the commission and find that Woods was advancing her employer's interests, at least indirectly, by remaining on the premises until she received her check and clocked out.
The high court affirmed the commission's ruling.