Telecommuting is a flexible option enjoyed by thousands of workers each year, but with the rise of the novel coronavirus, suddenly millions of people have had to learn how to work from home efficiently. This raises a number of important questions. How are employees held accountable for being productive at home? How can teams that once worked within the same space reach the same level of efficiency while everyone is at home? If an employee is injured while working from home, do they qualify for workers’ compensation?
Your Employer Has the Same Obligations, Regardless of Where You Work
Employers are obligated to provide employees with a safe workplace. This is true whether the employee works in an office, on construction sites, or from home. When an employee is injured while working, it does not matter where they were when it occurred; they generally qualify for workers’ compensation.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system that protects both the worker and the employer. The worker does not have to prove that the employer erred and caused their injury. The employer does not have to expose themselves to personal injury lawsuits.
Because the obligations and responsibilities of the employer and employee are the same in a work-from-home situation, the right to workers’ compensation is the same.
Policies and Procedures
However, employers do have less control over your work environment when you choose to work from home. This does potentially expose them to more workers’ compensation claims if their employees work in unsafe areas. Because of this, many employers have policies and procedures put in place to minimize their risks and ensure that employees are taking necessary precautions.
Some employers do an initial work-from-home check to verify the safety and efficiency of your work-from-home setup. They may look at where you work, what equipment you have, how you have it positioned, and how much it supports your work tasks. They may make recommendations or require you to make certain changes. For example, if your work-from-home area is a shared table used by your kids to do art projects, they may tell you to move to a dedicated working area that does not expose your equipment to potential hazards.
Employers may also set up work office guidelines that provide training on safe setup, ergonomic equipment, and break guidelines.
After an initial work-from-home check, your employer may perform occasional checks to see if you have made the necessary changes or if you have made any unsafe changes to your work area. Failing to abide by reasonable policies may endanger your workers’ compensation claim if you get hurt because of an unsafe setup.
Another step that many companies take to reduce workers’ compensation claims is to have set working hours. Consider, for example, an employee who does not have set hours. They ram their toe into their dresser while getting up at night and suffer a fracture. They then claim that they had been up late working on a project when they stubbed their toe and file a workers’ compensation claim. This is a clear abuse of the workers’ comp system and is exactly what employers are trying to avoid. To protect themselves—and to prevent employees from working excessively long hours, which also puts them at risk for injuries—they may require employees to maintain set hours while working from home.
How can you protect yourself while working from home? Simply be as careful as you would be at work. Ensure that your work-from-home setup protects you from repetitive stress injuries, take regular breaks to prevent eye strain and muscle pain, and report any injuries to your manager right away. If you let them know when your wrists are sore from typing, they can help you take steps to prevent those injuries from becoming more serious.
What to Do If You Are Hurt While Working from Home
If you are hurt while working at home, let your manager know immediately. The sooner you report an injury, the easier it is to get necessary assessments and treatment. This also protects your workers’ compensation claim, as you have a limited window of time in which you can get compensation.
You may also want to reach out to a workers’ compensation attorney. While workers’ comp should cover just about any work-related injury or illness, employers have been known to dispute claims and fight to deny employees the compensation they deserve. When this occurs, you need an attorney to protect your rights and secure your rightful compensation.
If you have questions about a workers’ compensation claim or you worry that your rights are being violated by your employer, reach out to the team at Reeves & Mestayer, we are here to guide you through this process. Call us or fill out our online contact form now.