Despite its advantages for both employees and employers, remote work has some drawbacks, including headaches when it comes to workers’ compensation claims.
While there has been some employer pushback against it, work-from-home hasn’t disappeared and it’s not likely to ever completely go away. That means there’s still a likelihood that a remote worker could get injured while on the job, even though they’re not technically in the workplace.
That can make workers’ compensation cases involving remote workers a bit tricky.
This begs the question, “Are at-home injuries suffered by remote workers covered under workers’ compensation?”
“The short answer is that most at-home injuries suffered in the course of an employee’s job duties are covered under the Worker’s Compensation Act,” attorney Brandon Jubelirer said in a blog post for the State Bar of Wisconsin.
Jubelirer, who specializes in workers’ compensation law in the state of Wisconsin, was quick to add that “workers’ compensation insurers can be quick to deny at-home injury claims.”
With that in mind, here are three important things to keep in mind when dealing with work-from-home injury cases involving workers’ compensation claims:
1. 5 legal elements apply whether injury was at work or in home
Under the Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Act, the same five legal elements apply whether the injury occurs at home or in the employer’s physical workplace. Those five elements are:
- the existence of an employer-employee relationship
- a physical or mental injury
- the injury occurring in the course of employment
- the injury arising out of the worker’s employment, and
- the injury can’t be self-inflicted.
If an injured employee meets that criteria, no matter where they were working at the time, then they qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
2. Remote worker injuries face a higher level of scrutiny
However, a work-from-home injury claim is going to face increased scrutiny by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier. That’s why these injuries need to be reported immediately and must be thoroughly documented by the injured employee.
Because of this higher level of scrutiny, employees must:
- notify the employer of the work-related injury immediately (this can’t be stressed enough)
- seek medical help promptly, and
- cooperate with the workers’ compensation insurer.
Obviously, the insurer is going to question a lack of evidence or a delay in reporting. After all, they don’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, pay for an injury that isn’t work-related.
That means the insurance company is also likely to question whether the employee was hurt while in the course of their employment. If the worker was deviating at all from their normal job duties when the injury occurred, then the claim is likely going to be denied since that deviation probably led to the injury.
3. The big question: Did the worker deviate from their job duties?
For example, if Jane Smith was entering data from home and a sudden thunderstorm occurred, she’s not likely to get benefits if she tripped and fell while trying to get her lawn furniture into the garage before it blows away. In this scenario, Jane deviated from her job duties and was hurt while performing a personal task.
On the other hand, if Jane had been entering data and then slipped and fell on her rain-soaked driveway while on the way to a meeting with a client, she may get benefits since the client meeting is job-related.
Jubelirer offered these hypothetical examples of employee deviations:
- leaving your desk to go play with your young child
- taking a short break to help your school-aged child with remote-learning
- getting intoxicated while still on the clock, and
- getting in a motor vehicle accident while running a personal errand.
“The injury while working from home must be directly connected to the employee’s job duties,” Jubelirer said. That comes with a few key exceptions, including:
- the course of employment isn’t broken during lunch or designated breaks agreed upon by the employer, and
- short breaks to use the restroom, grab a drink or snack to take back to the work station or “any other brief action taken for ‘personal comfort'” doesn’t break the course of employment.
In work-from-home injury cases, each alleged deviation depends on the specific facts of a case, according to Jubelirer. That means “poor judgment and negligence do not always arise to the level of a deviation.”
If whatever the employee was doing when the injury occurred arguably benefited the employer’s interests, then it probably won’t count as a deviation.