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Workers Comp for Remote Workers

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Can I File for NY Workers Compensation if I Telecommute? 

The technological advances of the past decade have allowed more people to work remotely than ever before. Even the very concept of what a “workplace” is is shifting. No longer a traditional brick-and-mortar, centralized location, a “workplace” is wherever an employee happens to be doing his or her work. However, suffering an injury can complicate matters for workers’ compensation purposes; if an employee suffers an injury while working at home, is he or she still eligible for workers’ compensation? The answer is yes, as explained below by a Long Island remote worker lawyer

Remote Worker Injuries Are on the Rise

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have been working from home than ever before. And there is evidence that the work from home revolution will far outlast the pandemic; according to data from Mercer, roughly one in three companies anticipate having half or more of their workforce remote post-COVID. Pew Research found that more than half of American workers want to work from home most or all of the time after the pandemic ends. But this also means more work from home injuries; according to Chubb, over two in five American workers reported increased shoulder, back, or wrist pain since beginning to work from home during the pandemic. This is likely a result of remote workers’ poor working environments. According to the same Chubb data, less than half of Americans working from home during the pandemic had dedicated home offices, with the rest working instead in living rooms, bedrooms, kitchen tables, and even finished basements. Such non-ideal working conditions increase the risk of ergonomic injuries. If you have suffered an ergonomic injury while working from home that prevents you from doing your job, please contact a Long Island workers’ comp lawyer

Employers are Required to Provide Workers’ Compensation Insurance to Remote Workers 

Virtually all public- and private-sector employers in New York are required to provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage to their employees, and remote workers are typically covered under their employers’ workers’ compensation insurance policies. The key inquiry into whether an injury is work-related is whether it arises out of and in the course of employment. Check with your employer to determine the proper process for reporting work-related injuries and ensure that you comply with all requirements, just as you would if the injury occurred on employer-owned premises. 

When are Work from Home Injuries Covered by New York’s Workers’ Compensation Laws? 

Work injuries “arising out of and in the course of the employment” are eligible for compensation under the New York workers’ compensation program. This means that the injury must occur during the employee’s regular work hours and while the employee is performing his or her actual work duties — regardless of where he or she does so. However, injuries that are the result of purely personal activities are considered to be outside the scope of employment and are thus non-compensable. 

Which Injuries Are “Work-Related” and Which Are “Purely Personal”?

While working from home, it is often difficult to distinguish between activities that are “in the course of employment” and those that are purely personal, as employees who work from home frequently alternate between work-related activities and personal activities. 

A few examples of injuries that likely would be considered work-related in a work from the home environment While working from home…

  • Tripping over a computer cord that you are using for your work
  • Falling out of your desk chair while working
  • Throwing out your back while installing employer-mandated home office furniture

An example of an activity that likely would be considered purely personal in a work from home environment, and thus non-compensable, would be:

  • Getting into a car accident while out running a personal errand
  • Injuries sustained during a worker’s off-work hours
  • Injuries sustained while doing non-work-related activities, such as cleaning, caring for children, etc. 
  • Injuries caused by domestic violence

Home offices — especially makeshift ones — lack many of the safeguards of professionally designed workplaces, increasing the risk of workers suffering musculoskeletal injuries. The presence of children, spouses, pets, handymen, and other visitors can also pose risks of injuries for remote workers. While working from home…

A few examples…

  • Neck and back injuries from working on couches, beds, kitchen counters, and other improper work settings
  • Neck injuries from looking down at laptop screens
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries 
  • Tripping over children, pets, or clutter during the workday

What Does a Workers’ Compensation Investigation Look Like for Remote Workers? 

Work-related injuries do not necessarily have to occur on an employer-owned property to be compensable under the workers’ compensation program, but it can often be more difficult for an injured worker to prove that an injury is work-related if it occurs off-site. It can be especially difficult to prove for work from home injuries since many injuries sustained while working from home arguably fall into a “gray area” between work-related and non-work related. Employees who are injured while working from home may be able to bolster their argument that their injury is work-related by showing that the injury occurred during the employee’s normal working hours, that it occurred while the employee was engaged in his or her normal work activities, or that it occurred while acting at the direction of his or her employer. An experienced Long Island workers’ comp lawyer can help you demonstrate that a work from home injury was work-related. 

Workers’ compensation investigations look a little different for remote employees than those who work on-site. This is because a typical workers’ compensation investigation will place a heavy emphasis on interviewing witnesses (who are typically disinterested third parties) who can help the adjuster determine the precise cause of the accident or injury. Such witnesses typically are not available for remote employee investigations, and few witnesses there tend to be the employee’s spouse and children, who cannot be considered neutral third parties. 

In investigations of remote worker injuries, the adjuster normally will: 

  • Obtain a written statement from the employee attesting to his or her version of events
  • Request that the employee sign a medical release authorization so that the adjuster can obtain medical records related to the injury
  • Interview the employee’s employer to ensure that the employee’s statement to them and to the adjuster are consistent with each other 

Because many works from home injuries fall into legal gray areas, such investigations typically are more likely to end up in court than standard investigations. Workers’ compensation insurance companies are often quick to deny injured employees’ claims as being non-work-related, and the fact that an injury occurred at home provides a convenient opportunity to do so. If your workers’ compensation claim is denied and you would like to pursue a hearing, you should contact a Long Island workers’ comp lawyer who can help you present the strongest case possible. 

How to Avoid Work from Home Injuries

The best way to avoid a protracted legal battle over workers’ compensation benefits is to implement proper workplace safety procedures in your home. And even if these practices do not prevent an injury, they can help you establish that your injury was work-related in the event that you need to make a workers’ compensation claim. The following practices can help to protect you from a work from home injury: 

  • Use a designated work area with an ergonomic chair and proper desk. Avoid working from the couch, bed, or kitchen. 
  • Establish standard working hours with your employer and refrain from performing work-related activities outside those hours
  • Limit non-work-related activities during working hours, such as running errands, engaging in household chores, cooking, etc. 

Contact a Long Island Workers Comp Lawyer for More Information about Benefits for Remote Workers

Suffering a work-related injury at home can complicate the workers’ compensation claims process. To maximize your chances of receiving the full compensation you are entitled to, please contact a Long Island workers comp lawyer at Turley, Redmond and Rosasco by using our online form or calling 631-582-3700. We serve both New York City and Long Island, including Nassau County and Suffolk County.

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