Many parts of the professional landscape have shifted with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most notably, many offices have migrated to a remote work-from-home setup, whereby employees are no longer required to come into the office or other related job sites with as much frequency. In some cases, employees will never be required to come in again, and instead can perform all their job duties from the comfort of their own home.
And yet, many of these industries and positions still offer workers’ compensation benefits to their employees. So if you’re an employee who is somehow injured while working your job, but were not technically on the job premises when it happened, you might be wondering how your workers’ comp benefits still apply. And the answer is that they most likely only apply under certain circumstances, and when you take the right actions following a work-related injury.
Does Workers’ Comp Cover Remote Workers?
Remote workers have existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic. This world-wide event simply increased their prevalence. But there have been industries that have operated by the use of part-time and full-time remote workers in some form or fashion for many years. So the concept of providing these employees with workers’ comp benefits isn’t necessarily new. It’s that now, these types of situations are potentially much more common, and as such, must be more thoroughly regulated and addressed.
Though each workers’ compensation policy is unique to the employer who purchases it from their insurance provider, in general, most workers’ comp policies do cover remote workers in some way. That’s because any such telecommuting employees still need coverage should they suffer an injury or other ailment as a direct result of completing a work task during work hours.
But those last two elements are the key phrases to take away here: Completing a work task during work hours. Remote employees have duties that vary, and could include anything from long hours spent sitting and typing on the computer, to boxing up company products to mail out to customers. Whatever the case, if the employee’s injury is a direct result of performing a task as part of their required job duties, and is suffered during their regular, expected work hours, they may qualify for workers’ comp benefits—even if the incident occurred inside their own home.
Employers may not have much (if any) control over the home environments of their employees, and thereby may not be able to regulate the safety of their remote work areas. But this does not necessarily give them reason to deny workers’ comp claims. If they want their employees to work from home, they are still responsible for providing a safe work environment for said employees.
Common Work-From-Home Injuries
Determining what qualifies as a “work-from-home” injury as opposed to a “normal” home injury is where some of the challenge in these types of cases lies. For example, how is an insurance company or a court of law to determine if an employee tripping over the dog under their desk constitutes as a personal home injury, or a potential workplace hazard injury? Making such determinations is difficult, but not impossible.
Most remote work injuries can be divided into two common categories: cumulative injuries, and slip/trip and fall injuries. These are the most prevalent types of remote work injuries that result in enacting workers’ comp benefits for the employee. So if you’ve suffered from one of them while performing job duties during normal working hours, then you may have a claim to file.
Cumulative injuries refer to physical damage or pain caused by repetitive movement and overuse of a certain part of the body in order to perform the job required. They often develop over a longer term, and can include painful conditions that affect muscles, tendons, and nerves. They most often result from a poor ergonomic setup at a work station. The most well-known of these types of injuries is carpal tunnel syndrome, or a condition that affects the wrists and hands of those employees who repeatedly use a keyboard and mouse for long hours. But other common cumulative injuries include tendonitis, bursitis, back pain, neck pain, and even eye pain or chronic headaches and migraines from too much screen time.
Slip/trip and fall injuries are also some of the most frequently reported at-home accidents in the country. Most workplaces have specific plans and setups in place to help prevent the frequency of their employees slipping, tripping, and falling on their premises, but this is of course much less feasible to achieve in every single employee’s home. As such, the tendency for employees to slip in things like spilled liquids, or to trip over hazards like electronic cords, children’s toys, and yes, even pets, is potentially increased. And if such an event occurs during normal business hours and activities, you may be able to file a claim to address your injuries.
What to Do if You’ve Suffered a Remote Work Injury
The first and most important thing to do if you suffer any type of injury while inside your home, whether you’re working your normal business hours or not, is to seek medical attention. For emergency situations, call 9-1-1 and request an ambulance. If your injuries are less severe, make an appointment with your general practitioner to get yourself thoroughly checked out. It’s important to make sure you address your injuries in a timely and productive manner.
If you believe the injuries you’ve suffered may qualify you to enact your workers’ compensation benefits, the next step is to start gathering proof to back your claims. With the shift to remote work environments has also come a shift in burden of proof when opening a workers’ comp claim. In other words, because home environments can’t be as thoroughly regulated or monitored by the employer, it falls to the employee who suffered the injury to prove that it was caused by normal work activities and during normal work hours.
This is when your doctor as well as your own thorough documentation and communication all come together to play a key role in proving your claims. First, the doctor who treats your injuries and develops an ongoing medical plan for your recovery will be able to attest to how and when the injury occurred. Make sure to keep ample record of these diagnoses and treatments. You may even want to secure a letter from your doctor thoroughly explaining what caused your injury, and what will be needed to address it.
Next, you need to be as communicative with your employer during this time as you can manage. After you’ve treated any injuries that require immediate medical attention, you must make your employer aware of what has happened. The closer to the time of the injury you can accomplish that, the better. This helps to create an accurate timeline of the injury that can help to prove it occurred during normal business hours and duties. The company’s insurance provider will likely have an adjuster get in touch with you to gather their own evidence, and though you want to be forthcoming with them, know that you do not need to give them any details that seem unrelated or unnecessary.
Knowing how to open and file a workers’ comp claim, as well as how to interact with your doctors and the insurance adjuster on your case can be overwhelming. That’s why seeking the assistance of a workers’ compensation lawyer could make all the difference in receiving adequate benefits. They can guide you on the steps to take in the process, as well as speak to involved parties on your behalf.
The Whisler Law Firm has an experienced workers’ compensation team that has helped employees of all types—both on-site and remote—obtain the benefits they deserve after suffering a work-related injury. The remote work climate has presented a new set of challenges when it comes to workers’ comp claims, but you don’t have to navigate those challenges alone. Call our office at 833-529-5677 or submit an online form to schedule a free consultation with us.