Officer Receives Workers’ Comp When Injured At Home On Lunch Break

Police officers for the Township of Randolph, New Jersey work 12-hour shifts. With the permission of their supervisor, officers are allowed to leave the city limits to eat their meals.

Officer Andrea DeCoursey was working the 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift on February 14, 2006. DeCoursey received the permission of her sergeant to eat dinner at her home, which is located in a neighboring municipality within close proximity to the Department. The permission was conditioned on her remaining in radio and telephone contact with her supervisor so that she could answer any duty calls. DeCoursey complied with these conditions.

When DeCoursey finished her meal, she started to return to her patrol vehicle. As she was exiting her home, she slipped and fell on black ice, incurring an injury.

The Township contended that DeCoursey was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for her injury. The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court disagreed. The Court found that there were special circumstances in the law that allow accidents that occur away from the workplace to be covered by workers’ compensation. Among those circumstances is where the employee is required by the employer to be away from the employer’s place of employment provided the employee is “engaged in the direct performance assigned or directed by the employer.”

The Court found that these principles supported the award of workers’ compensation benefits: “DeCoursey was working her 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. 12-hour shift and during the entire period was on duty. She received authorization from her employer to have her meal at home in accordance with the Police Department’s policy manual. Although there were no calls during her dinner period, she maintained, as required, communication with her supervisor and was available for calls.”

The City argued that because DeCoursey’s home was outside of the Township, her law enforcement authority was diminished, and thus she was not in the course of her employment when she incurred her injury. The Court acknowledged that while the Township’s argument “may be correct if DeCoursey were trying to effectuate an arrest in the neighboring municipality, but the argument misses the point here. The point is that, pursuant to the Township’s policy, police officers may venture out to a neighboring municipality for an occasional meal with authorization so long as he or she can respond quickly to situations in Randolph. Using the City’s logic, if an officer were transporting a prisoner to the county jail which is in another municipality and stopped for lunch outside of the city on the way back with permission and was injured outside the confines of the city, the officer would not be on duty because the officer is ‘off premises.’ Employees are entitled to compensation when they are where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

DeCoursey v. Township of Randolph, New Jersey, 2007 WL 2302321 (N.J.Super. 2007).

This article appears in the October 2007 issue