Remote workers who are injured while performing work-related activities are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in the number of employees working remotely from their homes. Working from home also poses risks of injury and illness that are compensable under workers’ compensation insurance.
What Is Considered a Work-Related Injury When Working From Home?
For remote workers to successfully claim workers’ compensation benefits, they must prove that they were injured while acting in their employer’s interest. Factors that help determine whether a remote employee’s injury was work-related are whether the employer was benefiting from the employee’s injury-causing actions, the employer required the employee to perform the injury-causing activity, or the employer had approved the activity to be performed off-site in advance.
For example, employees working from home who perform repetitive movements that they would still perform at their workplace would qualify for benefits if they developed carpal tunnel syndrome or other repetitive motion injuries. Similarly, an employee who lifts a work-related package that has been delivered to his or her home and hurts his or her back may successfully claim benefits.
An employer cannot control a remote worker’s work environment, but courts do not find this a sufficient reason for denying workers’ compensation benefits. In disputes over workers’ compensation claims, courts are usually inclined toward covering the injuries of employees. If a remote employee can reasonably explain how his or her injury is work-related, chances are he or she will be believed.
For example, in a case involving a remote worker who fell down the stairs and sustained a neck injury, the court ruled in the injured worker’s favor. The worker left her basement home office to get a drink upstairs. She fell when going downstairs to answer the phone. Although she had stopped working briefly, the judge determined her home office to be a secondary work premise and the injury to have been sustained in her scope of employment. Consequently, she was awarded the benefits.
Providing a Safe Work Environment for Remote Workers
The courts often interpret the hazards a remote employee encounters in his or her home’s workspace as hazards of employment. Therefore, companies are responsible for providing their remote workers with the same safe work environment as the employees who work on the company premises. That usually involves developing processes to limit hazards and support remote employees in setting up and maintaining safe and healthy work environments at home.
Practices that employers can implement to encourage safe telecommuting include:
- Remote work policy: The telecommuting policy created should cover considerations for remote work, such as time reporting, time management, designated work areas, and equipment used by employees.
- Work schedule and description: Employers should define the job duties and typical working hours of remote workers. That helps to better define the “course of employment.”
- Workspace guidelines: Employers can establish guidelines for a remote workspace, such as having a designated working area, and offer training on how to set up a workstation, ergonomics, and other safety measures.
Unlike personal injury claims that are based upon fault, workers’ compensation claims do not require fault. An employee who is injured when working from home should file a workers’ compensation claim as soon as possible and try to preserve any evidence that may help show how the injury was sustained.