OSHA considers any injury that occurs in the “work environment” to be work-related, but the work environment is not limited by paid working hours or even by location. OSHA defines it as “the establishment and other locations where one or more employees are working or are present as a condition of their employment.”
The phrase “present as a condition of employment” includes non-working time. For example, an employee who arrives for work in the morning, parks the car, and walks across the parking lot is present as a condition of employment. Arriving for work means the person entered the “work environment.” The fact that the employee did not yet punch in (or start working) doesn’t matter. Injuries that occur in a company parking lot are usually work-related.
The same concept applies at the end of the day after punching out. Employees typically remain in the work environment (they are present as a condition of employment) until they actually drive off the company property.
Injuries that occur on premises during lunch or rest breaks are also work-related, even if the employees are not engaged in job tasks. When employees remain on the premises, they are present as a condition of employment. Injuries need not result from occupational hazards. For example, injuries from horseplay, fighting, or even many personal tasks are work-related if they occur on company property.
OSHA published two interpretations regarding employees injured during lunch breaks, one who was knitting a sweater in her office, and another who cut himself while sharpening a pocket knife in the company parking lot. Both injuries were work-related according to OSHA. In those cases, the employers wanted to apply the exception for engaging in personal tasks outside of assigned working hours, but OSHA said lunch breaks are within assigned working hours because employees are normally expected to be present in the work environment.
Of course, if employees leave company property for lunch, they leave the work environment. For example, if several employees go to a restaurant, the moment they drive off the company property, they are no longer present as a condition of employment. Any injuries during the drive or at the restaurant would not be work-related.
In addition, OSHA provides an exception for voluntary participation in a wellness program, exercise class or similar activity, flu shot, or blood donation. OSHA did not want to discourage employers from offering walking trails or other exercise opportunities. However, activities like knitting or sharpening a knife do not qualify as “wellness” activities.
Finally, OSHA distinguishes between company parking lots and shared parking lots. If a parking lot is shared by multiple employers, like at a shopping mall, and no single employer has control over conditions, then it’s not a “company” parking lot. Injuries that happen in shared lots are not work-related because the employees are not in the work environment.
Our experts get a lot of questions asking if an injury is recordable. Often, the root question is, “Does OSHA consider this work-related?” To help you answer that question, join our webcast “Is That Injury Work-Related?” on December 22, 2022. We’ve combed through 20 years of interpretations and FAQs for the best stories and real-world examples. We’ll cover parking lots, assigned working hours, travel status, and much more! Log in or start a trial and register today!