Remote employees can file for workers’ comp. Learn how telecommuters can get workers’ compensation for injuries working from home.
The COVID-19 pandemic altered the way many of us work. Today, millions of workers are performing their jobs while telecommuting – working from home.
A home-based work environment doesn’t necessarily prevent people from getting injured while working.
While an injury is unfortunate, the good news is that you can file a workers’ compensation claim for a work-related injury suffered in your home office.
Workers’ compensation programs are mandated by state laws. Most states require employers to provide employees with workers’ compensation insurance, even for telecommuters and remote workers.
If you were injured while working from home, workers’ comp should compensate you for any medical expenses and lost wages. If your company unlawfully fails to provide workers’ comp, then you can file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer.
Employer Liability for Remote Workers’ Injuries
In general, your employer is liable for an injury you suffer while working from home. You can file a workers’ compensation claim provided that you can show that your injury arose in the course of your employment. This essentially means that you’ll have to prove that your injury was 100 percent work-related or suffered in the course of employment.
Employers usually have limited control in managing a person’s work-from-home conditions. Courts have found this irrelevant when it comes to workers’ comp and remote work injuries. Courts typically say that the risks workers face while at home are also hazards of their employment.
Case Summary: Work-Related Neck Injury at Home
Brenda Alston was working from home for Verizon Pennsylvania as a systems engineer. She worked from home for the company out of her basement office two days per week.
On the day in question, Brenda was in her upstairs kitchen drinking a glass of juice when she received a phone call from her supervisor. The call required immediate work attention, so Brenda began heading back to her basement office. While descending the steps to the basement, she fell and hit her head, injuring her neck. She later had surgery to repair her neck injury.
Brenda’s workers’ comp claim was denied. Verizon stated that she was not injured in the course and scope of her employment. Brenda’s attorney appealed that decision, and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania eventually ruled in her favor.
The court ruled that Brenda’s injury was work-related because:
- She suffered her injury during her normal working hours
- She was in her at-home work site when she experienced the accident
- She suffered her injury while talking on the phone with her supervisor and was returning to her computer
- Her employer approved her working from home on the day in question
The court found it irrelevant that Brenda took a break from work before the supervisor’s call. It concluded she was furthering Verizon’s business at the time of her injury.
There are a few steps a company can take to limit its liability when it comes to remote work injuries and workers’ compensation claims.
Employers can limit liability for remote workers by:
- Creating a telecommuting policy that sets forth the employer’s expectations for employees working at home
- Setting guidelines that employees must follow while working remotely
- Conducting inspections of a worker’s at home work site to help eliminate work area safety hazards
- Proscribing specific work hours and rest periods for remote employees
What To Do After a Work Injury at Home
If you suffer an injury while working at home, it’s critical that you seek medical attention as soon as possible. Ideally, seek care the same day from the emergency room, your primary care physician, or an urgent care clinic.
You should obtain medical care even if you don’t believe you were seriously hurt in your accident. Sometimes people will develop major medical conditions without experiencing immediate signs or symptoms of a problem.
Prompt medical attention protects your health, but it’s also important because the visit generates medical records. Medical records establish the date of your injury and link your injury to your home work area. They also show that you were injured on the job or in the course of your employment.
Notify Your Employer of the Work Accident
Once you receive medical care, make sure to inform your employer of your work accident. Most often, you’ll report a telecommuting accident to your boss, manager, or human resources department.
It’s important to notify your employer of an accident so that you can request necessary time off while you’re healing from your accident. You should have a note from your doctor detailing the amount of time you’ll need to be excused from work.
Telling the boss about your injury is not the same as filing a workers’ comp claim. After you’ve notified your employer of your injuries, you should be given the necessary paperwork to file a workers’ compensation claim.
This paperwork usually consists of a form to fill out. Once you complete it, return the form to your employer, who will then send it to their insurer. Upon submitting the form to your company, you should receive a letter from your employer’s insurance company within one to two weeks regarding the status of your claim.
State Laws on Remote Worker Compensation
Most state laws say that if an employer has more than one employee, it must carry workers’ compensation insurance. This is true no matter if the company’s employees work remotely or on-site.
If an employer unlawfully fails to carry workers’ comp insurance, it can face fines, penalties, and possible criminal charges.
Also, if an employer does not carry insurance and a worker is injured, injured workers can file a civil lawsuit against their employers. This is true no matter if the employer willfully chooses not to carry workers’ compensation insurance or fails to carry it because they’re unaware of the law.
Most workers’ comp laws include provisions that say injured workers can’t sue their employers for job-related injuries. However, without a worker’s compensation insurance policy in place, this provision doesn’t apply.
Independent Contractors Don’t Qualify for Worker’s Comp
Many business owners (especially small businesses) decide to hire workers as independent contractors, and many of these workers end up working in a home office.
An independent contractor is a self-employed person that contracts with a company to perform work as a nonemployee. Since independent contractors aren’t technically employees of a business, the company doesn’t have to provide the contractor with any employment benefits, such as health insurance and employer-sponsored retirement accounts.
Most state laws say that independent contractors are ineligible to receive workers’ comp insurance.
Other workers that are ineligible for workers’ comp include:
- Maritime employees
- Railroad employees
- Seasonal or casual workers
If you’re working remotely as an independent contractor and get hurt while performing work duties, you won’t qualify for coverage under your client’s workers’ compensation insurance.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Eligible Employees
If a remote employee suffers an injury in the course of their employment, and they successfully file a workers’ comp claim, then the employee is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Worker’s comp benefits are normally limited to coverage for medical expenses and partial wage replacement. In some situations, workers may also receive vocational rehabilitation to help them get back to work.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program. No-fault means that you don’t have to prove that an employer or a co-worker helped contribute to your injury in any way. You just have to show that you were injured at home during the workday and suffered your work-related injuries while in the scope of employment.
Third-Party Claims for Work Injuries
Sometimes a remote worker may suffer injuries while working from home by some third party.
For example, consider the situation where a remote worker is driving a car while running a work-related errand. If she gets hit by another motorist and gets injured, the driver of the other vehicle is referred to as a “third-party.” The worker can file a third-party personal injury claim against the at-fault driver, in addition to her worker’s compensation claim.
Unlike a workers’ comp claim, for the personal injury claim, the worker must prove that the other motorist was at fault for causing the accident.
In a personal injury claim, the worker can seek compensation for all her damages, including:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Future lost earnings
- Property damage
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Pain and Suffering
The workers’ compensation insurance company has the right to put a lien against your personal injury settlement to seek reimbursement for the money they paid on the injured worker’s behalf.
Getting Help From a Workers’ Comp Attorney
Most remote employees injured at home can file a claim under their employer’s workers’ compensation coverage. The process and paperwork are relatively simple.
If you decide to handle your claim without a lawyer, you just need to ensure that you seek medical help for your injury, report the injury to your employer, and file your workers’ comp claim within your state’s deadlines.
However, an employer may try to say that injuries suffered in the employee’s home were not incurred during the scope of their work. In cases like these, it’s a good idea to get legal advice from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.
A qualified lawyer will discuss the specific workers’ compensation laws that apply to your case. An attorney can also gather evidence and use it to show your employer that your accident was indeed work-related. Most workers’ comp attorneys provide free consultations to injured workers.
State laws generally limit the amount of legal fees charged for workers’ comp cases. Don’t let your company try to prevent you from receiving the workers’ comp benefits you deserve. Speak with an attorney and get fair compensation.
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