Arkansas Court Upholds Workers’ Comp for Smoke-Break Injury

December 14, 2010

The Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled that an employee who was injured when she fell down and broke her arm during a cigarette break is entitled to workers’ compensation.

The Court sided with Ronna Woods, who sought workers’ compensation from Jonesboro Care & Rehab Center after the 2008 accident.

Woods argued that she was on the clock at the time of the injury and that she only stepped outside to have a cigarette because there was long line of employees who were waiting to pick up paychecks. She says she fell down on her way back inside to go stand in line.

The Court explained that Woods’ employer required workers to clock out for their 30-minute break for meals, but not for the two 15-minute breaks that were allowed each employee. The company also maintained a smoking area outside the building for employees.

Woods testified that she “decided to wait outside in the designated smoking area until the line had thinned. Other employees stepped outside to smoke as well. After a few minutes, appellee decided to go back inside because of the cold weather. With a lighted cigarette in her hand, appellee walked over to a trash can to discard her chewing gum and fell onto the concrete pavement, fracturing her left humerus,” according to the Court’s written opinion.

The Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission originally found for Woods, deciding that her injury was compensable. But Jonesboro Care & Rehab Center appealed, maintaining that she was not performing employment services when she sustained the injury. Instead the Center asserted “that at the time of her injury, appellee was taking a personal break that did not directly or indirectly advance her employer’s interest,” the Court explained. The appeals court sided with the Center.

The Court ruled Woods was doing work at the time of her injury – by remaining on site until she could pick up her paycheck, as required by her employer. It vacated the decision of the appeals court and affirmed the ruling of the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Associated Press reports contributed to this story.

Jonesboro,Woods Arkansas

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