Virginia Workers’ Compensation:  Injury After Clocking Out

In Jones v. The Woodlands, Inc., Jurisdiction Claim No. VA00001035833 (March 29, 2016), the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission ruled that an employee injured on the employer’s premises but after he had clocked out was not injured in the course of his employment. The Commission reversed the Deputy Commissioner’s ruling that the injury was compensable.

The claimant, Robert William Jones, was a nursing assistant for the employer, an assisted living facility. The claimant clocked out at 7:30 am on the morning of February 18, 2015. He claimed that he “went straight … on over” to another building on the premises in order to retrieve his paystub from the human resources office. Paystubs were mailed or emailed to employees and employees were not required to pick up a copy from human resources but the claimant needed to provide a copy in order for his wife to continue to receive disability benefits. The claimant was reportedly in the human resources office for approximately five minutes obtaining the paystub, and then left, walking to his car in the parking lot. The claimant slipped and fell on snow and ice and was reportedly discovered around 9:00 am. He was transported by ambulance to the hospital where he was treated for his injuries.

An employee remains within the course of his employment for “a reasonable period while he winds up his affairs” after clocking out. Jones, JCN. VA00001035833, at 5. (citing 1A A. Larson, Workman’s Compensation § 26.10 (1989)). The Commission looked to the exact sequence of events in order to determine whether the ninety minutes between the time that the claimant clocked out and the time his injury was discovered constituted a reasonable period. The claimant testified that he walked slowly to the human resources office in order to avoid falling, and arrived “a little before 8:00.” Id. at 3. He estimated that, after falling, he lay on the ground for approximately one hour, calling for help before he was discovered. Id. Two employees in the human resources office testified that, although the office generally opens at 8:00 am, they did not arrive to open the office until approximately 8:45 am on the morning of February 18, 2015 due to transportation difficulty caused by the snow. Id. They testified that the claimant did not arrive at the human resources office until shortly before 9:00 am and that they heard him fall and call for help only moments after he left the human resources office. Id. at 3 – 4. The claimant’s inability to explain his whereabouts between the time he clocked out at 7:30 am and his arrival at the human resources office shortly before 9:00 am persuaded the Commission that the claimant had not proven that his injury occurred in the course of his employment. Id. at 7.

“To establish that an injury occurred ‘in the course of’ employment, the claimant must show ‘that the injury occurred within the period of employment, at a place where the employee was reasonably expected to be, and while he is reasonably fulfilling the duties of his employment doing something reasonably incident to his employment.’” Id. at 5 (citing Norfolk Cmty Hosp. v. Smith, 33 Va. App. 1, 5, 531 S.E.2d 576, 578 (200)). An injury that occurs outside the normal time or place of work while an employee is not doing anything to benefit the employer does not occur in the course of employment. Conner v. Bragg, 303 Va. 204, 208, 123 S.E.2d 393, 396 (1962). The Commission looked to its decision in McKinney v. Hardee’s, 67 O.I.C. 99 (1988), in deciding that Jones’ injury did not occur in the course of his employment. . In McKinney, the claimant clocked out at approximately 11:30 pm on a Thursday and waited in the dining area some amount of time between thirty minutes and two and a half hours for the arrival of her paystub, which she would otherwise have been given the next day, Friday, at the end of her shift. Id. The claimant in McKinney was injured when, while waiting for the paystubs to be delivered to the restaurant, she got up to get a drink and slipped on an unknown substance on the floor. Id. In some cases, employees are still considered to be in the course of their employment while picking up paychecks or paystubs if the employees are thereby providing some benefit to the employer. See Decatur v. American Silk Mills, Inc., O.I.C. 137 (1981) (ruling that an employee was in the course of his employment while picking up a paycheck from a plant that had closed); Ali v. Bradlees, I.C. 128-39-27 (June 10, 1988) (ruling that an employee was providing a benefit to the employer while picking up a paycheck that needed to be cashed in store).

The Commission’s decision in McKinney was based in part on the fact that the claimant was unable to identify the cause of the slippery floor or explain its relation to her employment. 67 O.I.C. 99. The recent decision in Jones clarifies the string of Commission rulings on employees injured while obtaining paychecks because its decision was based on the amount of time that passed after the claimant clocked out and the purely personal nature of his activities after clocking out. JCN. VA00001035833, at 7. The claimant’s ability to identify the specific cause of his fall was not a factor in deciding whether or not the injury occurred within the course of his employment as it was in McKinney.