Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the number of people working from home. Inevitably, as more and more people work from home, there has been an increase in injuries. Initially when workers tried to report these claims under workers’ compensation, many employers and their insurance carriers resisted covering these accidents. However, the law has been evolving on this issue and today, injuries may be covered.
It is important to understand that the workers’ compensation law is intended to cover injured workers, regardless of fault. As long as a worker can show their injury or illness arose from their work, the law is supposed to cover them. In a 2020 case, a New York Court held that a regular pattern of work at home renders the workers residence a place of employment, as much as any traditional workplace maintained by the employer.
However, when you are working from home, you can, and will, take coffee, restroom or lunch breaks. If you are injured during one of these breaks, can you still be covered? The Courts had previously held that accidents that occur at the employer’s workplace during an employee’s short breaks, such as coffee breaks, are considered to be so closely related to the performance of the job that they do not constitute an interruption of employment. In a different case, the Court had held that an employee that remains on the employer’s premises during her lunch break continues to be in the course of employment during her break. Thus, when she was hurt while on lunch break, she was covered by workers’ compensation.
It was against this background that a recent case was contested because the worker was injured at home. In their decision, the workers’ compensation board ruled on a case where a worker was injured at home while carrying a sandwich from his kitchen to his computer. The workers’ dog grabbed his sandwich from his hand and tripped the worker, causing him to fall. He injured his shoulder and had to see a doctor for treatment. The workers’ compensation board judge ruled the injuries were covered by law and the insurance carrier appealed.
On appeal, the Board ruled that since the worker was working from home with his employer’s permission, his home was considered his workplace at the time of the injury. Since the worker was returning to his workstation to continue working when he was injured, the board ruled that he was still in the course of his employment when he was injured. The board noted that it was on the employer/insurance carrier to prove the injury happened from a purely personal activity. Here, the workers’ carrying of the sandwich with the intent to return to his workstation to continue working while he ate, was ruled to be reasonable and work-related. They therefore held that his injuries were covered by the workers’ compensation law.
Because one of the Board Panel members disagreed with this decision, the case was reviewed by the highest level of administrative review at the Board, Mandatory Full Board Review. After reviewing the facts, the Full Board upheld the decision, and the injured worker was ruled to be covered for his injuries. It is important to bear in mind that not all work from home injuries are covered by workers’ compensation. For example, injuries sustained while cooking a meal, cleaning your home or sustained from domestic violence are typically viewed as personal in nature and not work-related.
As you can see, workers’ compensation injuries may be improperly denied by insurance carriers and employers. It is, therefore, crucial that you talk to an experienced lawyer so you may understand your rights. You should not simply accept the insurance company’s decision regarding the compensability of a claim.