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Robert Miller worked as customer service and bookkeeping associate at Saker Shoprite from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. On January 29, 2010, Miller came to work to pick up his paycheck at 10:00 a.m. The store allowed employees to do direct deposit or to pick up their paychecks in person. While he went in to get his paycheck, someone waited in the car outside. One fellow worker described Miller as wearing what appeared to be pajamas.
Miller picked up his paycheck at the courtesy desk and then cashed it. He also bought a lottery ticket for a co-worker who was working a register in the checkout area as a cashier. He walked over to the co-worker, handed her the lottery ticket, turned and headed toward the store exit. As he exited, he slipped on a substance that may have been sugar or salt, falling to the floor and injuring his knee. He was diagnosed with a medial meniscus tear.
Miller filed both a workers’ compensation claim and a parallel personal injury action in the Law Division. The Judge of Compensation heard testimony and ruled that the accident was compensable. The judge relied on the fact that the store allowed its employees to cash their paychecks at the store. In the judge’s mind, this indicated that the store intended to benefit by “impulse buying” of workers who came to cash their checks in person. The judge awarded 17.5% disability of the leg or $11,686.50.
Saker Shoprite appealed and contended that there was no legal support for a finding of compensability. The Appellate Division reversed the Judge of Compensation, noting that petitioner was not performing any work duties at the time of his injury. He was not dressed for work and was only there to do a personal task, namely pick up his paycheck. In addition, the court noted that petitioner performed one other personal task in buying a lottery ticket for a co-worker.
In finding that the fall was not compensable, the court had to distinguish this case fromChen v. Federated Dep’t Stores, Inc., 199N.J. Super. 336 (App. Div. 1985). In that case an injury to a Federated employee was found compensable during lunch hour when the employee tripped on a clothes hanger while shopping in the store. The Appellate Division in that case found that the lunch-break shopping was beneficial to the employer and encouraged by the employer.
In this case the court said that Miller’s injury did not occur during a lunch break but many hours before his work shift would begin. The court also found that Miller never offered proof that Shoprite benefited from having employees pick up checks in person. The benefits manager of the store testified that employees were generally discouraged from remaining in the store if they were not working or shopping. The court said, “[t]here is no testimony that the store actively encouraged such conduct by check-cashing workers. The practice was merely a gratuitous convenience provided by the employer.”
In reversing the Judge of Compensation, the Appellate Division allowed Miller to reactivate his civil suit against the store. This case may be found atMiller v. Saker Shoprite, A-3746-13T2 (App. Div. November 13, 2015).
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at email@example.com.