Remote work is not a new concept. For years, employees in various roles have worked outside of their corporate offices and called everything from their basement to their local coffee shop “home office.”
With the rise of a global pandemic, employers quickly adapted to a new remote work environment, requiring nearly all employees to work from home. This change now presented a different kind of workers’ compensation challenge for employers. With the majority of their workforce now working outside of their typical workplace, many begged the question, “Does workers’ compensation cover remote workers?”
In simple terms, the answer is yes. Workers’ compensation does cover remote workers so long as the injury arises out of and occurs in the course of their employment. This means the injury or illness had to have taken place while performing work duties and not attending to personal matters.
Like most things with workers’ compensation, there is some gray area.
Take, for example, Verizon Pennsylvania v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Alson), 900 A.2d 440 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006). This claim involved a remote employee who fell down the stairs of her home and injured her neck during work hours. The employee had left her basement office set-up to grab a drink from her upstairs kitchen and was injured in the process. She filed a claim with her employer for workers’ compensation benefits, which was promptly denied, not an uncommon trend for injured workers.
The employer argued the employee was attending to her own personal matters and not work-related activity; however, the Commonwealth Court saw it differently. The Court ruled in favor of the injured worker, concluding the home office was an approved “secondary work premise” and that the injury arose in the course of employment. She was awarded workers’ compensation benefits within the standard range of her injury type.
On the flip side, some remote work injuries fail to meet the requirements set forth by the state. In the Texas case Martinez v. State Office of Risk Management, 582 S.W.3d 513 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2018), a workers’ claim was rejected by the Commission and Court of Appeals after she injured herself while working from home by tripping on her way across her kitchen. The employer argued that the employee was not approved to work from home, violating agency policy and Wage and Hour laws by working on a Saturday. The injury was deemed non-compensable, meaning that it did not occur in the course and scope of her employment.
Differences in state statutes and employer policies make for loads of obscurity. Upwork estimates that 26.7% of the workforce will be fully remote in 2021 and also forecasts that by 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be remote. With the trend fully underway, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your employer’s policies around work from home/remote work and any safety standards that they may enforce.
If you’ve been injured while working remotely, know that you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, should you file a claim. It’s clear remote work is here to stay.