As cities mandated stay-at-home orders, and employers implemented workplace safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in passing months, many American workers performed their occupational tasks remotely. While restrictions have changed throughout the pandemic, many employees remain at home for their work.
These changes happened fast, with little preparation time for employers or employees. According to Gallup, from the middle of March (13-15) to the beginning of April (1-2), Americans who worked remotely saw a jump from 31% to 62%.
Employees replaced 15-minute commutes with 15-second walks from the bedroom to a workstation. Dining and coffee tables became workstations. Children and pets became new coworkers. The new normal affected how workers conducted business.
Even before the pandemic, the popularity of remote work was already steadily increasing as American employees began looking for flexibility in their day-to-day work. A Flexjobs.com report showed that there was a 159% increase in remote work from 2005-2017.
As technology and internet access become more advanced and affordable, many employees can take professional responsibilities to their homes. While there are many advantages to remote work for employees and employers alike, one of the biggest concerns is dealing with work-related injuries.
Workers’ compensation is designed to alleviate employees of medical expenses and lost wages if they are unable to work. It also protects employers from lawsuits. However, workers’ compensation is traditionally associated with covering employee injuries in the physical workplace.
So, can you receive workers’ compensation working from home?
Workers’ Compensation Working From Home
We understand you try to stay safe at home as you do at the office. Accidents happen, and injuries can occur over time if your at-home work equipment isn’t up to workplace standards. If you’ve found yourself injured and unable to perform your usual work, you may be wondering if you can file a workers’ compensation claim.
While the pandemic may have put remote workers’ compensation under a microscope, it isn’t a new concept. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) produced this response to the idea of a telecommuter work injury in 2009:
“Injuries and illnesses that occur while an employee is working at home, including work in a home office, will be considered work-related if the injury or illness occurs while the employee is performing work for pay or compensation in the home, and the injury or illness is directly related to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting.”
In this interpretation of telecommuter workers’ comp, the OSHA said that the injury is only compensable if it was a result of a work action. Meaning, if the action was unrelated to work, like using the bathroom or feeding a pet, it wouldn’t be covered.
With the influx of remote work, workers’ comp cases for telecommuters may become more relaxed than before.
Like any other workers’ compensation claim, the final say comes down to state law on whether your request is accepted or denied. As the pandemic progresses, so will remote work laws and regulations. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can help guide you through the shifting landscape of work injury law.
Types of Injuries You Can Sustain While Working from Home
Even at home, one of the safest places you can think of, a work-related injury can still occur. Injuries like a slip and fall while you use the restroom or tripping over your house pet as you rush to scan a document may come to mind. However, cumulative injuries that occur over weeks or months of working without your usual ergonomic gear can sideline you.
U.S. companies spent $50 billion annually in costs for musculoskeletal disorders that employees developed from work. Workers at home may not adhere to the guidelines set in place at the office, resulting in an injury like carpal tunnel or back pain. Employers need to set the precedence for how employees should conduct their remote work and, if required, provide ergonomic equipment.
Employer Due Diligence
Workers’ compensation executives say there is an inherent risk of sending workers home because their work environment is no longer in the control of the employer. It is up to the employer to identify potential hazards that may come with remote work and share those with employees.
Workplaceless, a company specializing in helping teams work remotely, offers advice for employers when it comes to the implementation of telecommuting. Leaders should review hazards with workers and establish a support system that allows them to report any injuries. Providing personal protective equipment for employees to prevent common injuries also helps to mitigate risk.
How to File a Remote Workers’ Compensation Claim
If you’ve been injured while working from home, filing workers’ compensation is similar to if you were in the office. Get medical attention, if required, and make sure to tell your employer as soon as possible. Most states have a 30-day limit on workers’ comp claims. Your employer will then get you the paperwork you need to file with the workers’ compensation insurance company.
Whenever you are filing your claim, make sure to collect as much evidence as possible to prove that it was a work-related injury. You want to show that you did everything you could to mitigate the risk of your injury.
A workers’ compensation adjuster will look to poke as many holes in your argument as possible. Any business login records or time-tracking software can help because they will show you were engaged in your work. Take photos of what caused the accident, if you can.
You will have to answer some questions whenever you fill out your paperwork about the scope of your activity. Include details about if the action that caused your injury was approved or required by your employer.
Talk with a Workers’ Compensation Attorney
As the “new normal” changes how we approach our jobs and safety, consulting with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer is essential. Before you try to take on a workers’ compensation claim alone, talk with one of the expert attorneys at Tolbert Beadle today to see how we can help.