More people are working from home right now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused thousands of companies to shift as many employees as possible to work from home environments. One potentially positive side effect of the pandemic is that many have discovered that their jobs are much more feasibly shifted to working from home than they might have thought and that many of their traditional office skills can be applied to the home office. This makes their potential career prospects more diverse, and in fact, lots of people that lost their jobs due to the pandemic are now looking for working from home prospects. In a lot of ways, the future may very well involve working from home as much as possible, as it’s a sustainable work format that is available regardless of the nation’s quarantine status. Many experts have projected that the country will go in and out of lockdown states until a vaccine is released, which means that more and more people will shift to this unique work environment. But just as employees are shifting, so are important, practical aspects of the work environments that they once were in. This includes workers compensation and specifically workers compensation eligibility requirements.
Right now, it’s estimated that about 96% of people use a search engine to seek out legal advice; and a lot of employees who now work from home are probably doing that, particularly because they’re confused about what workers compensation even means right now. Just because more people are working from home doesn’t mean that they’re sitting at their desks working completely from a computer. Nor does it mean that they can’t be injured on the job, even if they are working on computers. Workers compensation eligibility requirements may very well see a shift in the future as the idea of what work injuries at home really are, and what working at all in a post-pandemic word looks like. But right now, less has changed than you might think. Workers’ rights still need to be observed and protected, and you shouldn’t assume that because you work from home you don’t have a right to workers compensation.
Can I File For Workers Compensation If I Work From Home?
Firstly, let’s look at the most basic and obvious question: can you file for workers compensation if you work from home? Barring a few very specific circumstances, every state except for Texas requires that employers have workers compensation coverage available for employees. If you’re working for a company that doesn’t offer workers compensation coverage in the first place, that’s another issue entirely, and one that you may very well want to take up with the help of workers comp lawyers.
With that being said, generally speaking, remote employees are just as able to file for workers compensation in theory as employees that don’t work from home. Before the pandemic, a lot of companies had both remote employees and traditional employees. These employees had to have the same level of ability to apply for workers compensation. When it came this aspect of workers compensation eligibility requirements, the issue was not getting hurt while at a specific location, but getting hurt while on the job, regardless of where it was happening. All of this being said, it can be more difficult for remote employees to receive workers compensation simply because their cases are often not as cut and dry. If an employee is at a company warehouse and slips and falls on a wet floor, or is injured while transporting company goods, then it’s fairly clear to lawyers that they will probably meet workers compensation eligibility requirements. While remote employees are simply just as capable of being hurt on the job, it can be more difficult to determine whether nor not that is what actually happened, and whether or not the context of the injury was work-related.
Although some remote employees are more closely surveyed by their employers than others, generally speaking, it is impossible to see what a remote employee is doing at all times. Therefore, a remote employee could potentially be injured while off the job, and then file for workers comp without actually meeting workers compensation eligibility requirements. Now, there are circumstances under which injuries and their timing may be more easily tracked. If a remote employee is making a delivery for their employer and gets into a car accident, then that is more obviously an injury that occurred on the job. If an employee is hurt on the job and immediately goes to receive medical treatment, then this is more clearly occurring on the job. Injuries that occur on the job more gradually may be more difficult to track. If an employee receives a gradually-occurring back injury, they may very well need to consult with a doctor to prove that this occurred on the job and that they fall under workers compensation eligibility requirements. The burden of proving that an injury arose because of or on the job is on the employee, but conversely, courts have found that the employers’ lack of comparative oversight regarding a remote employee’s location is irrelevant. It’s simply a trickier situation, at times, to prove.
Why Do Work From Home Employees Apply For Workers Compensation?
What types of injuries and conditions to prompt work from home employees to apply for workers compensation? When looking up whether or not a situation falls under workers compensation eligibility requirements, many employees become quite confused. If you think that you may have a case and you’re a work from home employee, it may be worth it to start consulting with a work injury attorney early. An injury lawyer can advise you as to whether or not your case is worth moving forward with; you don’t have to necessarily wait to get in touch with them until you’ve been denied workers compensation.
You may also want to look into what historically has affected work from home employees in terms of injuries. Not all work from home employees simply work out of an office at home. As previously mentioned, some remote employees may have tasks involving delivering products; if they were to get into a car accident during that time, that would be an injury that occurred on the job. Some work from home employees may also perform physical tasks at home, as their clients may come to them or they may make products at home. Any kind of injury that occurs during this physical labor could fall under workers compensation eligibility requirements as well.
With that being said, many injuries that occur when an employee is working from home are far from straightforward. It’s quite possible that a work from home employee would be more likely to be challenged by their employer when seeking workers compensation, which is why it’s important to consult with a workplace injury attorney ahead of time. One particular case in which an employee was challenged by their employer was Verizon Pennsylvania v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Alston), 900 A.2d 440 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006). In this particular case, the work from employee did work out of a typical home office and fell down the stairs to her home office after getting a drink and injured her neck. Specifically, she was returning to her office to answer a ringing phone. While the employer argued that she had left her duties and was injured during that time, and therefore not on the job, the court found that she had only briefly left her duties and was therefore still on the job when injured, just as a typical office employee would be if they got up to get a drink. More than once in fact, Pennsylvania courts have found that these brief deviations from work do not affect an employee’s workers compensation eligibility, as attending to these comforts furthers the employee’s ability to work. In fact, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania deemed during the Verizon case that the employee was injured at a secondary work premise, which meant that she still fell under the workers compensation eligibility requirements.
How Have Companies Responded?
It’s not that companies necessarily don’t want to give workers compensation benefits. However, many are more reluctant to do so for work from home employees simply because there is the perception that work from home employees are more easily able to make claims for injuries that didn’t occur on the job. This is an unfair perception, but one that has led to restrictions that apply to work from home employees in many different companies. Most companies now have strict telecommuting policies and procedures that employees must adhere to.
These policies can include a stricter account for work hours. Not only must the employee actually account for a certain amount of worked hours; they must also only work within a set time frame. This makes it easier to determine whether or not an employee was actually hurt while on the job. Employers also often demand that employees set aside a dedicated work area, and may even require that employees adhere to a certain type of office, designed to reduce the risk of injury (including injuries that occur due to long-term injuries). Even lunch hours are often fixed for work from home employees, and employers often check up on work from home employees more frequently than they would check on traditional in-office employees. While it’s understandable that employers would want to protect themselves from false claims, this can also set a confusing precedent for work from home employees. Some may even be nervous about filing for workers compensation, as they won’t be sure what counts as an on the job injury and what doesn’t. This is why it’s important to talk to a work injury compensation lawyer, and ensure that you are handling your own claim correctly.
How Do I File For Workers Compensation?
In theory, not a lot of will change when filing for workers compensation as a remote employee; but the reality may differ. Contact your accident lawyer first, as they can help you file in a way that will maximize the chances of your claim actually being accepted. Workers compensation laws do vary somewhat from state to state, but you should be in touch with your employer to let them know about the injury immediately. It’s particularly important for work from home employees to have a dedicated record tracking their injury or injuries, and what they’ve done to have it treated. Therefore, you should also see a doctor regarding your injuries, and compile all relevant information regarding them. For that matter, if you are hurt and receive emergency medical assistance, tell them that you were hurt on the job. If your doctor finds that you are suffering from a work-related injury or illness, tell your employer no more than thirty days after you see them.
Most states require that the claim is filed no more than two years after the injury occurred in total. If you encounter difficulties with your claim but believe that you were unjustly denied workers compensation, you can still pursue compensation with the help of a dedicated legal team. With that being said, even if you are granted workers compensation, your employer may still appeal the matter, as occurred with the aforementioned Verizon case.
It’s not unusual for work from home employees to feel as if they’re a bit different from traditional employees, simply because working from home in today’s context is still relatively new. The American work culture usually defines on the job as being at a place, versus performing an activity; but legally speaking, that is incorrect. It is important for work from home employees to understand that they can also meet workers compensation eligibility requirements, regardless of where their injuries occurred.
As previously mentioned, you can still fight the denial of your claim and for that matter an appeal that your employer may take up. However, you’ll need the legal services of an attorney on your side. Therefore, the best thing you can do for yourself as a work from home employee is start early and talk to a lawyer as soon as you’re hurt.