When you think about workers' compensation claims in general, do you picture a factory worker suffering an injury, a Norma Rae developing white lung disease or losing a finger in the machinery? People with desk jobs can also suffer injuries, and not just repetitive motion injuries. A friend of ours tripped over some office cube walls that installers had piled up near her desk. People on the floors above and below heard her curse as she went down.
She was clearly in her workplace doing her job, though, so her workers' comp claim was fairly straightforward. What would have happened if she had tripped over file boxes while working from home? Would it make a difference if the boxes were full of personal rather than work-related files?
Would her home qualify as her workplace under workers' comp? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines "workplace" as "all places where workers need to be or to go by reason of their work and which are under the direct or indirect control of the employer."
Not much help, really.
Perhaps the better approach is to look first at what happened instead of where it happened. The first question, then, is whether the worker was injured while performing work for pay or compensation. If yes, the second question is whether the injury is related to the tasks and not the home environment.
OSHA offers a couple of examples. Assume you work from home. If you are injured when you drop work-related files on your foot, the injury is compensable. If, however, you are injured when you trip over your dog or a child's toy, the injury is not compensable.
Workers' compensation laws are different from state to state, so the answer could be different just across the state line. In some cases that could work to the employee's advantage. Not everyone who works in Queens lives in Queens. If a telecommuter working for a Queens-based company is injured in his home office in Connecticut, he may file his claim in either state, guided by a careful analysis of state laws regarding his injury or his work situation.
The best approach for a telecommuter filing a workers' comp claim may be to work with an attorney from the start. These cases can be tricky, and all that legal analysis may be easier for an experienced lawyer than it would be for someone recovering from an injury.
Corporate Counsel, "Litigating Workplace Injuries in a Virtual Office," Jonathan Bick, Dec. 9, 2014
Occupational Safety & Health Administration, "Standard Interpretations: Standard Number: 1904.4(b)(7); 1904.30(b)(3); 1904.46(3)," March 30, 2009