Even as the world edges back toward pre-pandemic norms, at least one COVID-driven phenomenon remains: Lots of employees — 12.7% of full-time workers — continue to log a considerable number of hours working remotely, including from home. Add hybrid employees — those who work both onsite and remotely — and the number surges to 28.2%.
And it’s only going to rise; Upwork estimates 32.6 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025, or about 22% of the workforce.
So, what happens if, during the course of your work-from-home responsibilities, you are injured or suffer some sort of mishap? Fear not: You’re covered by workers compensation.
Believe it. Employees who have gained the trust of their employer to work away from the office do not sacrifice any of their legal rights in the process.
This includes being able to successfully process a claim against your employer’s workers comp insurance, a policy that pays for a wide variety of job-related injury costs, including medical bills, rehabilitation and, sometimes, compensation for lost wages.
Does Workers Comp Cover Remote Employees?
Worker’s compensation, a system organized under each state’s laws to help injured workers get the treatment, care, and compensation they need while avoiding the need for litigation, applies to employees no matter where they work.
Long before high-speed internet, sophisticated computers, exotic programming and video meetings, certain employees routinely have carried out their jobs remotely. Journalists, engineers, carpenters, plumbers, and accountants leap to mind. Workers comp applied to them in their far-flung locations all along, just as it does now for employees who carry out their duties outside the office.
But — and here’s the pivotal caveat — the injury must be work-related.
This, however, does not mean making a claim is guaranteed against complications, even when the work connection is obvious (to you, at least). Here’s an overview from labor and employment attorney Chris Mann, a partner with New Orleans-based Jones Walker.
“If you are injured while performing work for your employer, you would normally be eligible for workers’ compensation,” Mann says. “The focus is not on where the accident occurred, but rather on the activity you were doing at the time.
“For example, if you are working from home and your desk chair collapses while you are working on your computer, you would likely be covered. However, if you are working from home and trip and fall while walking to put clothes in the washing machine, you would not be.”
Seems pretty clear, right? As ever, work-related injuries, wherever they happen, are covered. Injuries that happen during work hours, if they’re not related to your job assignment, do not.
“Different states have different rules for figuring out what exact conduct is covered,” says Boston-based workers comp lawyer John Sheehan, “but generally, injuries must be sustained within the scope and duties of the worker’s job to be covered. This is where a lot of gray areas arise.”
Workers Comp Eligibility When Working from Home
Workers compensation applies to workers who are categorized as employees — that is, according to the Cornell Law School, “an individual who works under the supervision or control of an employer … under an express or implied contract of hire that gives the employer the right to dictate the employee’s work duties.”
Employees who are injured in the course of performing their duties, no matter where they are located, may have a workers comp claim.
“If workers’ compensation is required for in-person employees who work on-site,” Sheehan says, “it is still required for employees who work across multiple sites or in remote positions (or even in different states).
“Most states already had rules and interpretations in place before the pandemic, but some did have specific rulings on these issues in the past few years.”
For instance, Sheehan notes, plenty of companies use representatives to make certain their products are properly stocked and displayed correctly. These are off-site employees who always were covered by workers comp in the event of a job-connected injury. Their precedent has been extended to employees who suffer job-related injuries while telecommuting.
Adds Mann, “The laws have not really changed. There has just been a renewed focus on analyzing the exact circumstances of an accident when a remote worker is involved.”
Circumstances surrounding the work-from-home incident will have to clear several hurdles, among them:
- When the injury occurred, was the employer benefiting from the employee’s activity?
- Did the employer require the employee to engage in the activity connected to the injury?
- Did the employer approve the remote-work activity in advance?
As long as the answer to all three questions is “Absolutely!”, the employee who was working remotely at the time of the injury is most likely covered by workers comp.
Pay particular attention to Question No. 3. As long as the employee’s remote-work status was approved by the employer or the employer’s representatives, the employee’s day-to-day status — on-site worker or remote worker — plays no role.
For instance, you customarily carry out your assignments in the employer’s office space, but you alert your manager you have been exposed to a contagious disease. You are directed to stay home, but are also asked to work on a project. If you are injured carrying out home-based work assignments, workers comp covers you.
Workers comp law makes no distinction between employees who work exclusively at a remote location and office-based employees who occasionally work elsewhere. Says Mann, “The focus is on the nature of the work being performed at the time of the injury, not on the employee’s remote status.”
The emerging case law is fascinating, to say the least.
A work-from-home Verizon employee received workers comp after racing to get a work-related call and tumbling down a flight of stairs, injuring her neck and head.
An Oregon interior designer won her workers comp claim for stumbling over her dog while moving fabric samples from her garage to her van to take to a client’s home. Because the employee went to the design studio only once a week, the storage arrangement had been approved by her employer.
Similarly, says Mann, “I was involved in a claim regarding an employee who tripped over her dog while walking to get something from her printer. That was a covered claim.
“I had another with an employee who was injured while evacuating his apartment building when a fire alarm went off. Coverage for that was denied, as the activity at the time of injury (exiting the apartment building) had nothing to do with his employment.”
Common Work from Home Injuries
Common work from home injuries include:
- Slips and falls
- Neck and back injuries (even when caused by poor posture)
- Repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome
- Traffic accidents while en route to meet a client, a work meeting, or making a delivery
- Mental stress
Before approving your remote-work schedule, your employer may ask for evidence of a suitable workplace to carry out your off-site duties. Rest assured, however, OSHA is not going to inspect your arrangement. Moreover, in a workers comp situation, it’s immaterial whether your employer had input into making certain your setup was ergonomically sound.
“How much control an employer exerts over your workplace conditions can help reduce injuries,” Sheehan says, “but the degree of control over your desk setup and ergonomics should not affect whether the accident is ‘work-related.’ … Workers’ Compensation insurance does not take the employer’s direct fault into account; injuries should be covered regardless of who caused them.”
Filing for Workers Compensation as a Remote Employee
Filing for workers compensation as a remote employee is virtually identical to that of onsite employees.
We begin with a caveat: If your work-connected injury requires immediate emergency medical attention, see to that straightaway. Everything else can wait until you have received professional attention and are stabilized.
Under any circumstance, report your work-related injury to your employer (or your employer’s representative — a manager or human resources, for instance). Describe the circumstances as accurately and in as much detail as possible. Make certain you receive a copy of the initial paperwork filed with the employer’s workers comp insurer.
Make contemporaneous notes about the circumstances surrounding the incident for yourself. Make certain they are consistent with what you told your employer.
Preserve the site of the incident with photographs. Interview witnesses (if there are any). Here’s where filing a claim can get sticky.
When an accident occurs in a traditional office or worksite, there almost certainly will be witnesses who can provide reliable testimony. Employees injured while working remotely, especially at home, may lack for witnesses — or, at least, witnesses (such as family members) presumed to be unbiased.
“Unwitnessed accidents, by their nature, get increased scrutiny,” Mann says. “So additional investigation into the accident is often required.”
Should You Hire a Lawyer If You’re Injured While Working from Home?
In every circumstance involving workers compensation claims, one thing the claimant can be sure of: The employer and the insurance company will have legal representation.
When a claim involves a remote-working employee and, as we have seen, all the complications that involves, having professional legal help on your side is a good idea.
“You should always work with a lawyer when filing a workers compensation claim,” Sheehan said. “Employers and their insurance companies will often reject claims if they can.”
» Learn More: When to Hire a Workers Comp Lawyer
About The Author
Tom Jackson won dozens of national awards as a columnist for newspapers in Washington, D.C., Sacramento and Tampa. His writing has spread from business to politics to sports with an emphasis on community issues. Tom splits his time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C. with his wife of 40 years, a college-age son and a yappy Shetland sheepdog named Spencer. Tom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Haan, K. (2023, June 12) Remote Work Statistics And Trends In 2023. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/advisor/business/remote-work-statistics/
- N.A. (2021, June) Employee. Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/employee
- Easterby, L. (2023) Can I Get Workers' Comp If I'm Injured While Working From Home? Retrieved from https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-if-im-injured-while-working-from-home-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.html
- Hodder, C. (2022, June 3) Can You Get Workers' Compensation for a Work-From-Home Injury? Retrieved from https://www.findlaw.com/legalblogs/law-and-life/can-you-get-workers-compensation-for-a-work-from-home-injury/
- Nguyen, J. (2023, January 24) In a world where millions work from home, what does it mean to be injured “on the job”? Retrieved from https://www.marketplace.org/2023/01/24/in-a-world-where-millions-work-from-home-what-does-it-mean-to-be-injured-on-the-job/
- Thean, S. And Kim, T. (2022, August 23) Workers’ Comp for Remote Employees: Here’s What You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://woodruffsawyer.com/property-casualty/workers-comp-remote-employees/
- Taylor Jr., J.C. (2022, August 30) Can I file for workers' comp if injured while working from home? Ask HR. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/2022/08/30/workers-comp-remote-employees-questions-answered/7906457001/
- N.A. (2022, July 28) How does workers' comp work for remote employees? Retrieved from https://www.insureon.com/blog/how-does-workers-comp-work-for-remote-employees