For many people, the past year’s work environment has been unprecedented. Employers asked their employees to pivot from the long-established office routines, and instead, work from home. Work-from-home arrangements necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, are likely here for the long haul. Working from home will become permanent for some employees, at least for part of the work week. And though remote work is nothing new, an increase in the volume of people making this change in the coming post-pandemic years is bound to lead to some thorny Workers’ Compensation (WC) questions.
After a year of being able to take the dog out during the middle of the day and take meetings while wearing sweatpants, today’s workforce is expecting a work-life balance more than ever before. Working from home may have provided that: however, home offices that do not properly address ergonomic best practices may lead to unexpected and avoidable injuries. When incidents occur while working at home, the question of work-relatedness may be raised.
How do you determine work-relatedness for a work-from-home injury or illness?
An injury or illness that occurs while an employee is working at home will be considered work-related if it occurs while the employee is performing work, and the injury or illness is directly related to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting.
Consider whether these scenarios would be allowable WC claims while an employee is working from home:
- An employee rushing to answer the phone trips and falls over the family dog or child’s toy to answer a work call.
- An employee is electrocuted when turning on a computer as a result of faulty home wiring.
Does the employer have control of the work environment in these situations? Although the employee in either situation is within the course of employment, they too have a responsibility to control their work environment. It is the employee’s duty to remove identifiable hazards from the workspace that are likely to contribute to or result in injury. In both situations above, the hazard was introduced by the employee, and thus, the claims would not be allowable.
The Workers’ Compensation system is based upon proof of a personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment. An injury that occurs in a home workspace does not have any third-party to help determine the precise conditions of the contributing incident, often making it difficult to determine if the injury occurred within, and as a result of, the course of employment. An injury at home will often have little evidence to rebut acceptance if the hazard that caused the incident was not directly introduced by the employee. In the second scenario above, if the employee had been shocked by the charging cable while plugging it in, but had just had their electrical updated, the claim may become allowable, as the employee has performed their due diligence to keep the workspace safe, signifying that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment.
Considerations for employers
Physical injuries aside, how about mental health issues that arise due to working at home? Could this remoteness cause or lead to depression/anxiety?
Although some people have found working from home less stressful because of improved work-life balance, others are struggling with being isolated, feeling unsupported, and not being able to disconnect when needed. Employers and employees need to be aware of mental health issues which can develop while working remotely.
At the end of the day, both the employer and their employees have a duty to ensure safe working conditions in a home workspace. Employers should consider sharing tips for ergonomically correct workstations, time to take movement or stretch breaks, and a defined regular schedule to help employees disconnect. Employers should also focus on staying connected to their employees and recognizing the impact of isolation to help avoid mental health challenges. Even small actions can help keep the home workspace safer.
Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic.