The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the ways millions of people got to work. Government mandated social distancing have required many companies to switch to remote working options. Even after the pandemic is over, the work from home trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. In fact, a PWC survey on US remote working found that 55% of executives believe that most of their employees will continue working remotely at least one day per week, even after the pandemic.
Do I Need Workers' Comp Insurance for Remote Workers?
In short, yes.
Remote and telecommuting employees are usually covered under workers’ compensation laws. Regardless of the location where the incident occurs. If a worker is injured while completing a work task during work hours, then their injury is compensable under workers’ comp insurance.
The remote worker usually has to provide proof that the injury is work related. That means to successfully claim worker’s comp benefits, the remote worker has to show that they were acting in the interest of their employer at the time of the incident. Since many remote workers are at home while they’re working, there may not always be someone who can corroborate the incident.
The best example of this can be found in Verizon Pennsylvania v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Alston). In 2006, an employee was working from home when she fell down the stairs to her home office when she went upstairs to get a drink. She fell walking back downstairs to her office to answer an incoming call.
Even though she had briefly stopped working to get a drink, the workers’ compensation judge, Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, and the Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of the injured worker. The court determined that the home office was an approved “secondary work premise” and the injury was in the scope of her employment. Thus, benefits were awarded.
Since state laws differ when it comes to what is considered a “work related injury,” it’s important to define each employee’s normal working hours and specific job duties. This will help courts to determine what is and what is not a work related claim.
What Counts as a Work Related Injury at Home?
It’s important to understand that employee’s at home are still covered by workers’ comp. Since every state has their own laws and interpretations, determining what a work related injury at home can be tricky.
In general, the employee has to be in the course and scope of their job and the accident has to arise out of their job related activities.
An employee having a busy day at the compute who feels a strain in their shoulder or elbow may have a claim since they can claim they were injured on the job.
Similarly, an employee who has a work related package delivered to their home, lifts it and hurts their back would have a claim.
Not every injury that occurs at home during work hours may result in a successful claim.
A remote employee who gets up for coffee, trips on their pet and gets injured may not have a valid claim. This type of situation is grey area and could be decided in court.
An employee working from home who takes a break for a treadmill run and gets hurt while running will not be able to claim workers’ compensation for their injury.
It is important to note that the employer is not the one who determines whether an injured worker has a valid claim. All claims are subject to an investigation that complies with the state employment law.
How Can You Still Promote Workplace Safety in a Remote Environment?
A main reason why most organizations develop workplace safety programs is because fewer injuries result in fewer claims.
However, it could be a challenge for organizations to adapt their safety program for remote workers. This is because organizations do not know what specific hazards might be present in each employee’s home. Those that have had to abruptly shift to an at-home working environment are at the highest risk for injuries. Not having an ample adjustment period when started working from home may increase claims since employees will not have time to make their workspace safe.
What Should You Do When a Worker Informs You They’ve Been Injured at Home?
No matter how safe a work environment might be, injuries can still occur. In such cases, your organization’s role is to gather as many details as you can about how the injury happened.
Details to take of are:
The time and date of the injury
The activity that led to the injury
The nature of the injury
It’s best to get your employee’s report about their injury as soon as possible and pass it along to your insurance carrier promptly. Getting the injury report as soon as possible allows the insurance adjuster and the employee to have a follow-up discussion while the details of the incident are still fresh. Once the report has been passed along to the insurance carrier, they will decide if the claim is work-related or not.
What Does a Workers Comp Investigation Look Like?
The insurance carrier will get in touch with the injured employee for a full detailed interview and to collect any documents or evidence. Usually, the carrier will:
Get a recorded or written statement form the employee describing the injury and how it occurred.
Request that the employee sign a medical release authorization form to get copies of any medical records regarding the injury.
Conduct an interview with the employee to verify that the employee’s statements align.
With this information, the carrier can make the decision whether the case is work-related or not.
In conclusion, workers’ compensation insurance is mandatory, even for remote workers. The penalties could be huge if one of your remote workers gets injured and are not covered.
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