If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, working from home has a lot of perks. For example: no commuting, better work-life balance, and fewer distractions (goodbye, compulsory work birthday parties). But are you protected under workers’ compensation laws while telecommuting?
Workers’ Compensation Applies to Remote Workers
Workers’ compensation covers accidents and injuries at the workplace. However, the laws expand to injured workers doing remote work if it happens within the scope of employment. Therefore, if you are telecommuting from your home office, you may be entitled to workers’ comp benefits for a workplace injury even if the “workplace” is your home office.
For example, a work-from-home Verizon employee received workers’ comp when she fell down a set of stairs. As she got a drink of juice, she received a work-related call. Sensing urgency, she headed downstairs, fell, and sustained head and neck injuries. A Pennsylvania court found that because she was talking on the phone with her supervisor at the time of the accident, it was during the course of employment.
In Oregon, an interior designer claimed workers’ comp for tripping over her dog while moving fabric samples from her garage. Because she only went into the design studio once a week, she kept fabric and carpet samples in her garage to bring to clients’ homes. In the course of employment, she had to move samples in and out of her garage into the van. The court found that because she was a remote worker, her home environment became her work environment and thus had a legitimate claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
What Is Workers’ Compensation Insurance?
Workers’ Compensation insurance is insurance that most employers must have for their employees. State law dictates when business owners need workers’ comp insurance.
If you work in a covered occupation and you have a work-related accident or injury, you can receive workers’ compensation coverage for income replacement and reimbursement for medical and rehabilitation expenses. The key element is that the injury must arise out of the course of employment. So, if, in the above case, the interior designer rushed into the garage to change her laundry, she would not have a claim.
Common Workers’ Comp Claims for Remote Employees
It may seem that working from home is relatively safe. However, remote workers do suffer workplace-related injuries. For example,
- Slips and falls
- Back and neck injuries (from poor posture)
- Repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome
- Automobile accidents while going to a client, a work meeting, or making a delivery
- Mental stress
You can reduce the risk of personal injury by inspecting your work area for hazards and using ergonomic chairs and office equipment. Your employer may help in making your home office a safe work environment.
When Employers Are Not Liable for Workers’ Compensation
There are some cases when employers aren’t liable for workers’ compensation claims. One example would be if you inflicted the injury on yourself or were drunk or high on the job. Therefore, if the Verizon employee added vodka to her juice, her workers’ compensation claim may not stand.
Additionally, workers’ compensation does not cover certain occupations:
- Domestic workers (housekeepers, nannies, babysitters)
- Agricultural workers
- Seasonal workers
- Undocumented workers
- Independent contractors or gig workers
Currently, OSHA does not require business owners to inspect employees’ homes for work hazards. Nor do they hold employers liable for conditions of employees’ home offices.
What To Do If You Get Hurt Working From Home
If you have a work-related injury while working from home,
- Seek medical treatment immediately
- Document your injuries and what led up to the injury
- Notify your supervisor, human resources department, or employer
- Reach out to a workers’ compensation attorney if you need help in filing a workers’ comp claim
Because more people work from home than ever before, workers’ compensation should be available for more remote employees if they are on the job. If that’s you, make sure you follow the above steps to put yourself in the best position to receive the benefits you might be eligible for.