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How does workers' comp handle real injuries in a virtual office?

Millennials will not remember the days when working from home was the anomaly. Only consultants could run their businesses from their homes. The rest of us schlepped to the office every day -- and trust us, even on a good day, the ride from Long Island City to Manhattan could be a lot to take.

The Internet changed that, perhaps forever. Better access to online resources meant faster business processes, improved marketing channels, opportunities for innovation that came with the tech boom in the late '90s -- even the transition from business attire to workplace casual. Entrepreneurs were launching their companies from their garages and basements. In some cases, there was no need to rent office space, because everything was done online with a phone, a modem and a desktop computer.

As those startups expanded and established businesses increased their use of the web, the definition of "workplace" shifted. No longer limited to the cube farm, workers -- including bloggers -- have everything they need at home. They are still full-time employees, but they may not set foot in corporate offices for months at a time.

While workers were trading in their Brooks Brothers business wardrobes for Old Navy casual clothes, employers were struggling with the implications of this new virtual workplace. Many legal issues started with one basic question: What is a workplace?

Workers' compensation is a terrific example. We all know the basics: A worker is injured in the workplace, and the employer's workers' comp insurance pays medical expenses, rehabilitation and other benefits until the worker can return to work. Workers' comp is the only remedy available to the employee. He or she may not file a personal injury suit against the employer in addition to or in lieu of filing a claim.

If an employee who works from home is temporarily disabled by such an injury, will workers' comp cover it? That depends on the definition of "workplace," and we will get into that in our next post.

Source: Corporate Counsel, "Litigating Workplace Injuries in a Virtual Office," Jonathan Bick, Dec. 9, 2014

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