Yes, telecommuters are covered by workers’ compensation as long as they are classified as employees and not independent contractors. Independent contractors do not qualify for workers’ compensation regardless of whether they are telecommuting or working onsite. But if you are an employee who was injured while working from home, there are three main points you need to remember:
The fact that workers’ compensation is no fault insurance is a major benefit for workers in telecommuting cases. How your injury happened does not matter — it could be your employer’s fault, your coworker’s fault, or even your own fault. And since any injury sustained at your home will likely be caused by someone in your home, this no fault system is helpful. If your employer or their insurance company attempts to say that your injuries are not covered because they were due to your own negligence, this may not be true!
For an injury to be covered, it must happen “in the course and scope of employment.” This simply means that your injury happened while you are working or furthering the business interests of your employer. In a traditional office setting, this is often fairly straightforward — either you were at work doing your job when you were injured, or you were not. But when telecommuting is involved, we often have to look specifically at the idea of “furthering the interest of your employer.”
In some cases, the defense will argue that your injury did not happen in the course and scope of employment, and will point to the fact you were working from home to back this up. However, by proving what you were doing at the time of your injury, this argument can be countered. For example, if you tripped over something while walking to the printer, or even walking to the restroom, that may still qualify within the course of employment as if it is only a momentary deviation from work.
Cases will be fact specific and independent verification, if available, will help prove facts to the judge. So as long as you can prove that you needed to get something from the printer for work, or that using the restroom would allow you to work more efficiently throughout the day, that will go a long way in helping your case. An example of something which would not typically be considered in the course and scope of employment is if you injure yourself while making lunch. Generally lunch time is considered off the clock, so this would likely be dismissed.
Telecommuting presents difficulties for both sides when it comes to proof in workers’ compensation cases. On one hand, your employer will have a hard time proving that your injury was not work related because there are no third party witnesses to the accident. But on the other hand, you may also have a hard time proving that your injury actually occurred in the course and scope of employment, and not before or afterwards.
If you normally work until 6pm, but are working alternative hours while telecommuting and are injured at 8pm, your employer may argue you would have been off the clock. Also, just as your employer has no witnesses to disprove your claim, you likewise have no witnesses (other than possibly family members) who can corroborate your claim.
Telecommuting does not void an employee’s right to workers’ compensation when they suffer an injury on the job. As long as you were doing your work or another activity which furthers the business interests of your employer, and you were expressly allowed to work from home, your case will likely be valid. And because workers’ compensation is no fault insurance, you will even be eligible for it if your injury was due to your own negligence or the negligence of a family member.
Each case is very fact specific, so do not give up on a possible claim without first discussing it with an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney.
My name is Geoffrey Hillsberg, and I have been solely practicing workers’ compensation law in the state of Pennsylvania since 1995. If you have been injured while working from home, contact me today for a free consultation. My office is currently closed, but I am still serving clients remotely. Even in the age of social distancing, you are not alone.
The advice offered above is general in nature and may not be applicable to every case. Consultation with an attorney is highly recommended. Reliance on this advice does not represent the formation of an attorney-client relationship in the absence of a fee agreement with Mr. Hillsberg.
Fill out the form with a brief description of your situation or call me at (610) 566-0600 and I’ll be in touch to schedule a free consultation.