Can You Get Workers Compensation If You Work From Home?
Can you get workers compensation if you work from home?
When the great shift to remote work began in March 2020, few people anticipated they would still be working from home two years later. In 2022, approximately 60 percent of workers who can do their jobs remotely continue to work at home most or all of the time, and most of them by choice, according to Pew Research Center. Yet, one unexpected issue could arise for employers with workers who appreciate the lack of a commute and their new work-life balance: what happens if those employees are injured at home during work hours?
If a worker is at home in the kitchen and breaks his or her foot when rushing to grab a call in his or her home office, will that be covered by workers' compensation in the same way as if the injury happened in the break room at work? Generally, the answer is yes if the injury occurs within the course and scope of employment.
Workers' compensation when working from home
In an office, workers' compensation covers an injury or illness that “arises out of and in the course of" someone's job. That same coverage is in place for illnesses and injuries that occur offsite as long as they are related to work.
However, state laws govern workers' compensation, so the rules about what is considered work-related will depend on where your employee's home office is located. In addition, the details of the illness or injury will factor into whether your workers' comp plan covers your remote staff.
Workers' comp generally doesn't cover an incident that occurs while commuting to work, but it does provide coverage for people who are traveling for work or driving specifically for work, such as from one job location to another during working hours. For people working from home, the “commute" inside their home may be covered because it takes place entirely in what's considered a secondary job site.
Plenty of people telecommuted well before 2020, so there are precedents for claims of work-related injuries at home. For example, in 2009, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) clarified that workers' compensation is meant to cover an injury that occurs while actually working. For example, OSHA cites an incident of an employee injuring their foot by dropping a box of work documents on it as a work-related accident. But if that employee hurt their foot while tripping over the family dog on the way to answer a work phone call, that's not considered work-related.
But in the 2002 case of a Verizon employee who fell down her stairs when she went to get a drink of water while working at home, the Workers Compensation Appeal Board and the Commonwealth Court in Pennsylvania ruled she was entitled to workers' compensation.
Courts often interpret that “the hazards an employee encounters when performing work at home are also hazards of his or her employment," according to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). In other words, a home office can be considered the same as any other office. But employees still need to demonstrate that they were working when their injury occurred.
When your employees work from home, they typically don't have coworkers who can vouch for how an injury happened. So they would need to take steps to explain what took place, most likely with a written statement and photos.
Common work-at-home workers' compensation claims
According to Lawyers.com, injuries at home that workers' comp may cover are typically repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain or injuries from a fall. Whether your staff would be covered for a similar injury depends on whether they're hurt while working, taking a break or participating in other activities at home. For example, your employees are more likely to be covered by workers' compensation if the incident occurs during normal working hours rather than at night.
You may want to review your remote work policies to see how that could impact the workers' compensation coverage to which your remote staff is entitled. Some employers establish specific work hours, require a specific location where employees work at home or define specific work tasks. In those cases, a workers' comp claim for an injury in off-hours or outside a home office may not be covered.
Workers' compensation and other insurance policies
A quick review of your insurance policies can help you determine whether you have appropriate coverage for any incident that happens when your staff is working from home. Workers' compensation typically covers medical expenses and replaces lost income to a certain limit while an employee recovers, but only if his or her claim is approved as a work-related injury.
An individual's homeowner's or renter's insurance policy typically doesn't cover incidents related to a home-based business. But an employer's insurance should cover an employee's compensable injuries or accidents that occur within the scope of employment while on personal property. However, it's always smart for workers to contact their personal insurance company for a quick check on their policy to ensure that they don't need any additional coverage for working at home.