Workers Comp for Injuries While Working at Home
Thanks to COVID-19 lockdown, many employees were forced to transition to working remotely. And then a true cultural shift happened. Many remote employees found that they enjoyed working from home – while many employers realized that a remote workforce could save them thousands of dollars in overhead expenses. And the work from home revolution was born!
According to the US Census Bureau, the number of people primarily working from home tripled between 2019 and 2022. Currently 7 million people work remotely at least half the time in the United States – with 16% of companies hiring only remote workers. And, as a result, the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that their were almost half a million fewer workplace injuries in 2021 than there were pre-pandemic in 2019!
But, what happens if a remote worker does get injured while working from home? In this article our experienced workers compensation attorneys discuss if and when employees can still collect workers comp for home injuries that occur during an employee’s working hours.
Workers Comp for Injuries at Home
Workers’ compensation benefits in California cover employee injuries or illnesses “if they arise out of and in the course of employment” regardless of where the injury occurred. But with so many workers now telecommuting and working remotely from home, the line becomes blurred between what happened at “work” and what happened at “home”.
Let’s take a simple slip and fall injury as an example:
Scenario #1: An employee works in an office and slips in the hallway on their way to use the bathroom at their place of employment. They fracture their ankle. Clearly, they qualify for workers compensation to cover their medical care as well as any time off. And the employer is unlikely to dispute that claim.
Scenario #2: An employee for the same company is now working remotely from home during the pandemic. They go down the hall to use the bathroom, and trip in their own home, breaking an ankle. Now whether they qualify for workers compensation is much less clear. And it is very likely that the employer will dispute or deny their workers comp claim. The workers comp insurer is certain to argue that the injury resulted from a slip and fall that had nothing to do with work.
Understanding California Workers Comp Law
California has a no-fault system that compensates injured employees for medical bills, lost wages and permanent impairments suffered in the workplace. This means you are covered, even if your own negligence (or someone else’s) played a role in causing the accident or injury.
So, to use the example of Scenario #1 (above) it would not matter if the employee were running in the hall, wearing very high heels, or even ignoring a sign that said wet floor. Injury in the workplace = compensation.
But, under California law, employees typically have the burden of proving that their injuries were work-related. Workers must prove that their injuries “arose out of” their employment – referring to what the employee was doing at the time of the injury. Compensable injuries must be incurred “in the course of employment” – which generally refers to when, where and how the injury happened.
And this is where it gets sticky for remote employment workers compensation claims. Proving that your employment caused an injury becomes more complicated when working from home, especially when the same injury could have theoretically occurred at your house even on any given day when you weren’t working. As in Scenario #2, a remote employee could also trip on a child’s toy in the hallway on a Saturday or Sunday off – so is this really “in the course of employment”?
Cases Where Remote Work Injuries are Covered by Workers Comp
If a worker is performing the same task at home that they would perform at work and sustain an injury in the process, there’s a much clearer case for workers comp coverage.
An obvious example might be a secretary whose job requires typing large documents all day. If they develop carpal tunnel syndrome – whether they are working in the office or at home – there is a direct causative relationship between the repetitive stress caused by typing and their carpal tunnel syndrome. So, they are likely to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance.
Another example might be a physical therapist who conducts remote therapy sessions for patients via Zoom. If she falls or hurts her back while demonstrating an exercise, she is likely covered. And, if the session is recorded, she will even have “proof” that the injury occurred while working.
When Remote Work from Home Injury May be Denied Workers Comp
If you are a chef testing new recipes at home, a burn injury might be covered. But if you are making soup for lunch and burn yourself it most likely will not qualify you for workers’ compensation. Slip and fall injuries can also be very difficult to tie to the course of your employment.
Remember, your medical records will be required evidence in any worker’s comp case. So, for example, if your ER report is time stamped by the hospital at 9pm or on the weekend, it would be very hard for a 9 to 5 remote worker to claim the injury was work related.
Some common questions that help determine whether an injury is work-related include:
- Was there a benefit to the employer from the worker’s actions when the injury occurred?
- Was the injury causing activity something that was required by the employee?
- Was the remote activity one that was approved by the employer before it resulted in injury?
- Would the injury have occurred in your home even if you weren’t working at the time?
Workers Comp Attorneys – Work from Home Injury
As you can see, the proof required to collect workers comp benefits for an injury sustained while working at home makes these cases much more difficult.
For this reason, if you were injured or made ill by your work duties while working remotely it is always advisable to consult with an experienced workers compensation attorney. A skilled workers comp attorney knows what “proof” you will need to win your workers comp benefits. An attorney can help you navigate the paperwork, documentation, and hearing(s) [if any] to ensure that you receive the maximum workers comp benefits for which you qualify.
Your consultation with our workers’ comp attorneys is 100% confidential, and neither your employer nor your insurance company will be notified that you requested a consultation with us. Our attorneys will help you understand your rights and work tirelessly for you to collect the maximum workers comp benefits.
California Workers Comp Attorneys for Remote Workers: 800-964-8047