It seems that of late, perhaps due to a certain public health crisis, many employees who are able to perform their jobs from their homes have been doing just that. Aside from saving time on a commute and missing out on the gossip at the water cooler, the average desk-bound employee probably is not missing a beat in getting his or her job done.
But what happens when one of these employees is injured at home during the work day? Is the employee going to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits?
The answer is a definite “maybe”.
The Threshold Question
The threshold question when determining whether an injured employee is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, no matter where the accident happens, is whether the injury arises out of work performed in the course and scope of employment?
For an accident and injury to arise out of work there must be occupational causation. For there to be occupational causation, the employment must expose the employee to conditions which substantially contribute to the risk of injury that the employee would not normally be exposed to during non-employment life. In other words, the employment needs to create an increased hazard or risk of injury that the employee would not normally encounter.
To be in the course and scope of employment, the accident generally must occur during the work day and at a place where the employee was reasonably expected to be.
Real World Examples
So the employee working from home who slips and falls on laundry detergent while doing a quick load between phone calls probably will not be eligible for benefits. However, the employee who trips over the errantly placed file or the rogue computer power cord while standing at their desk likely will be eligible for benefits. These scenarios are near the extreme and clearer ends of the range of accidents as far as compensability is concerned.
However, as a recent appellate court decision illustrated, some more difficult cases are decided on a very fact specific basis. In that instance, an employee was working from home when she tripped over her dog. At the time she was on a coffee break in her kitchen. She was found to be in the course and scope of employment because she was on a personal comfort break during the work day and she was at a place where she was reasonably expected to be. But she did not meet the arising out of work requirement. Since tripping over the dog did not constitute occupational causation, or an increased hazard over that which she would normally be exposed to, she did not qualify for benefits.
Employer Best Practices
When considering whether to allow employees to work from home, the cautious employer should be sure of what their employees’ home work stations consist of and how they are maintained. Clean, dedicated, ergonomically correct areas should be required. While this most likely will not absolve an employer from liability for providing workers’ compensation benefits in the event of an otherwise covered injury, it should at least reduce the employer’s exposure.
Employee Best Practices
Employees should be reminded on a regular basis that their work-from-home arrangement comes with a responsibility for keeping their area safe. The employee who does have an incident while working from home should also be required to promptly report the accident to their appropriate supervisors and seek prompt medical care for any injuries as appropriate. They should also be sure to document with notes, pictures, and videos, everything surrounding the incident as quickly as possible under the circumstances.
Key Legal Takeaways
When a claim for benefits is brought by an employee claiming to have been injured while working from home, a prompt assessment of the facts is crucial to determining whether, when, and what benefits are due. Like any potential litigation, the complete set of facts need to be analyzed together with the controlling statutes and case law to determine the outcome.
Consultation with an attorney experienced in workers’ compensation matters may assist with determining the facts and laws that need to be evaluated. Then a correct determination can be made and the benefits that are properly due and owing can find their way into the hands of the injured worker. On the other hand, when benefits are not due, a prompt denial of the claim for benefits needs to be delivered to the employee from the employer or claims handler.
Interested in Learning More About the Arising Out of Requirement?
Check out the September 2021 video recording of our webinar discussing the recent developments in order for an accident to be a compensable workers’ compensation claim.
If you are dealing with a Workers’ Compensation case and would like to discuss your options, please contact Michael M. Riedhammer (954.523.9922) or any member of our Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm legal team: