Yes, you can get workers’ comp if you get hurt while working at home. This includes repetitive stress injuries and accidents. However, it can sometimes be more difficult to prove that you were on the job at the time of your injury. The typical rules for commuting and addressing your personal comfort are more complicated. You may need a lawyer’s representation.
Does workers’ compensation cover remote work?
Yes. Workers’ compensation covers injured workers, not workplaces. If you were working from home and you got hurt, you can file a workers’ comp claim and receive financial compensation.
It is the same as if you were a delivery driver or a traveling salesperson: Just because you were not physically at the office does not mean that you were not working. When you are on the job and you get hurt, you are entitled to workers’ compensation.
The issue of workplace injuries happening at home has grown far more common with the coronavirus pandemic. Lots of people who are telecommuting have gotten hurt at home.
What are some common working-from-home injuries?
There are 2 types of work-related injuries that are common for remote workers:
- repetitive stress injuries, and
Repetitive stress injuries are those that are caused by constant use or repetitive motions. Because many remote workers are usually in an office setting, some common repetitive stress injuries that they suffer at the employee’s home can include:
- carpal tunnel syndrome, from typing or using a computer,
- neck strains, from bad posture staring at a computer screen or poor ergonomics in your home office, and
- eye strain or headaches, from staring at screens all day.
These types of injuries do not happen all at once. They are difficult to pinpoint exactly when they started. Instead, they are the cumulative effect of poor working conditions. Nevertheless, you are entitled to compensation from your employer’s insurance carrier for all injury cases arising out of your employment.
Accidents can also cause workplace injuries at home. These most commonly happen in a slip and fall situation, such as:
- tripping on the stairs,
- slipping on a wet floor, or
- falling over your dog.
These accidents can produce some significant injuries, including:
- head injuries, including concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs),
- broken bones,
- strains and sprains,
- soft tissue injuries,
- neck injuries, and
- back injuries.
What are the rules for commuting?
Typically, when you work in the office, workers’ compensation coverage does not extend to injuries sustained while commuting, like in a car accident. This is known as the “coming and going rule.” While coming from or going to work, you are not rendering service to your employer.
This means that you are not entitled to workers’ comp benefits if you get hurt while commuting. However, there are exceptions. One is the dual purpose exception. Under this exception, your commute is covered by workers’ compensation if you were going home to complete more work activities.
For example: Dorothy leaves work for the day, but brings paperwork with her so she can do it at home. Her employer knows that she does this often and sometimes has even requested it. On her way home, Dorothy gets into a car accident.1
Remote employees who work from home do not commute, though. This blurs the line between when you are working and when you are not. It gets especially complicated if you do not stick to your regular work hours. Your employer is likely to claim that your injuries happened during your personal time.
For example: Paula is a night owl. Since starting to work remotely, she has performed her job tasks after 7pm rather than during the normal workday. Her supervisor knows this and has said that she does not care. One night while working, Paula’s chair breaks and she injures her back.
What about the personal comfort doctrine?
Under the personal comfort doctrine of workers’ compensation law, you are still covered when you engage in brief personal tasks while within the course of employment. Those personal tasks have to be necessary or helpful to your comfort or convenience, and have to be reasonably contemplated by the employment.2 Some examples include:
- walking to the restroom,
- using the office break room, or
- going to the vending machines for a snack.
If you suffer a personal injury doing one of these tasks, often by slipping or tripping and falling, you can still recover workers’ compensation, even though you technically were not working. If it happens in the office, it is often clear what you were doing at the time of the accident. There are often witnesses who saw the accident.
When you work at home, though, it can be difficult to prove that the personal task that led to your injury was enmeshed in your work duties. There were often no witnesses. To make matters worse, these accidents are far more likely to happen because more potentially hazardous activity happens in the home environment than in the office.
For example: Doris is drinking a glass of juice in her kitchen when she hears an expected phone call from her supervisor in her basement office. On her way to pick up the phone, she falls on the basement stairs and suffers a back and neck injury.3
What should I do after getting hurt at home while working?
Injured employees who suffer a job-related injury at home should take the following 5 steps to file a strong workers’ compensation claim:
- get medical treatment right away,
- document your injuries,
- take photos of your injuries and the hazard that caused them,
- correctly notify your employer of your injury, often by informing your supervisor or human resources (HR) department, and
- call a workers’ compensation attorney.
Getting skilled legal representation is very important if you were hurt at home. Proving that you were hurt while in the course and scope of employment can be difficult. Your employer and its workers’ compensation insurance company are likely to fight your claim for workers’ compensation benefits.