The way the current workplace is viewed is rapidly changing with the times. With the advent of new technologies, the ability to work remotely is becoming more and more common with many companies.
How that new ability to work, however, is not 100 percent clear when it comes to worker injuries while working remotely. Can claims still be filed for workers’ compensation if the employee is working remotely? We have asked attorney, Alaina Sullivan, and here is what she had to say:
What Does Workers’ Compensation Cover?
Workers’ compensation offers benefits for only work-related injuries or illnesses. The actual injuries themselves do not necessarily have to occur in the physical workspace, but they do need to be related to the job or duties of the employee.
Many times, employees are injured while traveling for work or while at a business function. These injuries are covered just as much as those that occur within the four walls of the actual business.
The injuries that are covered can range widely in scope, from falls, burns, cuts, or even muscle or tissue injuries due to repetitive actions. Computer-related repetitive stress injuries are occurring more often than they have in the past.
The injuries do not always need to be sudden either. Many times, they develop slowly over time due to a gradual result of the working conditions. The covered conditions that fall under this category can include heart issues, lung disease or stress-related digestive issues, such as ulcers.
What Injuries Are Not Covered?
One important point that should be understood is that not all injuries or illnesses that occur in the workplace are covered under workers’ compensation.
The following injuries may not be covered due to the fact that they are more caused by the employee’s actions than the result of a work-related condition. These injures include:
- Injuries sustained as a result of the worker being under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- Injuries that are found to be self-inflicted by the employee;
- Injuries that resulted from a physical altercation, initiated by the injured employee trying to claim benefits;
- Injuries that resulted from a violation of company policy;
- Injuries the employee sustained off of the job; or
- Felony-related injuries.
If the employee is found to be an independent contractor, he or she would not fall under the workers’ compensation policy, as well. When it comes to remote employees, this independent contractor question often comes into play, and the employee will need to look to his or her contract with the company and the work history to prove that he or she was not an independent contractor, if that status is being disputed.
Remote or Telecommuting Employees
A telecommuting classification code, 8871, was created by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which covers most states. This code deals with clerical duties being done from a home office, not including sales, and employees who work for more than 50 percent of their work in the home office.
Many employers will look to this code when making determinations on how to handle claims. The problem with telecommuting is many employers have absolutely no idea what the home office environment is like for their employees, and they are going on blind faith that the employee is working in a safe set-up.
For instance, if the employee works from home and chooses to do all of his or her typing while sitting on the couch instead of at a desk where his body and arms would be supported, and the employee ends up with severe back injuries and carpal tunnel, is this injury covered?
The employer may try to argue it is not considering how the employee is working, but the employee may be successful in arguing it is. What is normally looked at is whether the injury arose out of the normal course of employment, meaning the normal time, place or circumstances.
The Doctrine of Permissible Transfer
It is for this reason that an employer should set some type of restrictions on the telecommuting employee. Many employers will have their employees agree to a contract that states that the employee is assuming the role of a risk transfer worker or independent contractor while working off the job.
The employee is still paid by the employer, but because of the nature of his or her job responsibilities being performed from home, the “contract” the employee will then have with the employee is more of an independent contractor.
This pushes liability off of the employer somewhat, unless the employee can argue that liability is still there. If an employee is considering telecommuting, and his or her employer is asking the employee to complete a similar type of contract, it is important the employee carefully review the ramifications of signing before agreeing to any new terms of employment.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you are in the process of pursuing workers’ compensation and have questions about how your telecommuting classification will affect your rights, a workers’ compensation attorney can help review your case and discuss your options.
An attorney can listen to the facts of the case and can best advise you on how to proceed. Contact an attorney experienced in workers’ compensation law to schedule a consultation today.