Ohio’s “Zone of Employment” Rule Protects Worker Who Clocked Out for Lunch

Injuries Sustained in Nearby Parking Lot Were Compensable

Where an Ohio data entry worker had clocked out for lunch, exited the building, and fell in a nearby parking lot, breaking her arm, her claim for workers’ compensation benefits was not barred by the going and coming rule, held an Ohio appellate court in White v. Bureau of Workers’ Comp., 2018-Ohio-4309, 2018 Ohio App. LEXIS 4632 (Oct. 24, 2018). Her injuries were compensable under Ohio’s zone-of-employment exception to the coming-and-going rule [see Ohio Rev. Code § 4123.01(C); Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 13.01, 13.04].

Going and Coming Rule Has Exceptions

The employer contended that the employee, who worked as a data entry person and who, therefore, had relatively fixed hours and work location, should not be covered after she clocked out, that her claim was barred by the normal going and coming rule. The Administrator of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation denied the claim and a district hearing officer agreed with the Administrator. The employee appealed, but a staff hearing officer affirmed the district hearing officer’s decision, and the Industrial Commission refused her appeal. The employee had better luck before the the common pleas court, which prompted the further appeal by the employer and the Administrator.

Parking Lot Under Repair

Evidence indicated that the parking lot was under repair at the time of the employee’s fall, that there were two feet of completed pavement in the parking lot followed by a section of incomplete pavement. The employee testified that she slipped on the lip of the completed pavement and fell face first onto the incomplete section, breaking her arm.

Appellate Court Agrees Going and Coming Rule Can Apply to Lunch Breaks

The appellate court acknowledged that the going and coming rule generally applied to travel and off-premises activities during a lunch break. Here, however, the employee was favored with an exception to the rule: the zone-of-employment rule. Under that exception, the employer’s “place of employment” included the areas thereabout. Specifically, the means of ingress and egress were included in the employer’s premises, if under control of the employer. Quoting from the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Marlow v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 10 Ohio St.2d 18, 22, 225 N.E.2d 241 (1967), the appellate court held there were no issues of fact; the employee’s injuries were compensable as a matter of law. The employee was still within the zone-of-employment when she fell.

Because she was injured in the company parking lot within a short time of clocking out for her lunch break, her injuries were compensable under the zone-of-employment exception to the coming-and-going rule in R.C. 4123.01(C) since she was within the zone of employment at the time of the injury and the injury was proximately caused by a natural hazard of the zone. The employer owned the parking lot and had the power to direct the work performed there. The decision of the common pleas court would stand.

This entry was posted in Case comment and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ohio’s “Zone of Employment” Rule Protects Worker Who Clocked Out for Lunch

  1. MV says:

    Does the zone of employment rule work the other way. Say for instance, the employee clocked out at the end of her shift, went to the parking lot and opened a bottle of tequila and has a shot or two prior to facing traffic on the way home. Would the employer have been within their rights to terminate her for drinking on the job?

    • Great question: My thought would be that under the circumstances of the Ohio case, where the parking lot appeared to be part of the employer’s property, to the extent that the employer had a rule against drinking on the premises, it would equally apply to the lot and consumption in the lot would have been the same as at the desk inside the building. I don’t think, however, the employer would need to rely on the zone-of-employment rule “ZOE”). That is to say, the ZOE doctrine–there’s a similar one in New York–clearly extends the course and scope of the employment, as opposed to extending the “premises” themselves) beyond the portal of entry and exit. Many states would say one need not worry about EXTENDING the course and scope of employment to the parking lot–as apparently Ohio does–since many states cover parking lot injuries as if they were inside the building itself. The drinking issue also introduces an issue of employee misconduct which, of course, wasn’t an issue in the current Ohio case. THANKS for the comment!

  2. Jerry Murphy says:

    This case and similar “premises” claims exist b/c of the employee exclusion within CGL policies. If the ee was able to assert liability upon the employer for defective premise ( failure to warn or maintain ) then the issue of what “pocket” owes would not lead to case like this. But b/c there is no liability response available under CGL, employee must rely upon WC for remedy.

    • I really appreciate the cogent comment. Indeed, the interplay between policies is an important driver in many cases. I wonder, however, is it that the “premises” claims exist because of CGL exclusions, or rather, is it that the CGL exclusions exist because of the exclusive remedy provisions of the various state workers’ compensation acts. While many employers (those that are wise) have both workers’ comp and CGL coverage, many do not since, inter alia, comp insurance is generally compulsory and CGL is not. And causes of action grounded in the employer’s failure to warn or maintain are subject to common law defenses, such as contributory/comparative negligence and assumption of the risk, whereas those defenses are not in play in workers’ compensation claims. Your point is well-taken, however. Prudent employers knit together good coverage; else they can become accidental self-insurers.

Comments are closed.