Telecommuting has become increasingly popular over the past decade. More than 60 percent of organizations surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management in 2016 said they allow some type of telecommuting. Offering remote employment presents benefits to both the employee and the employer. The employees, particularly working parents, relish the greater flexibility it provides. It also offers employers the opportunity to cut down on ever-increasing overhead costs. But how does allowing employees to work from home affect an employer’s workers’ compensation policy? What does a compensability analysis look like when an employee is injured at home?
Much like any normal workers’ compensation case, any injury occurring while the employee is working from home will be deemed compensable so long as it arose out of the employment, and occurred in the course and scope of the employment. A Florida Judge of Compensation Claims recently ruled that an adjuster’s slip and fall while making coffee in her kitchen was compensable under the Personal Comfort Doctrine. In that case, the “Telecommuting Agreement” required the adjuster set up a permanent work space in the house. The adjuster did so and worked during the employer’s normal business hours of 7:00 am to 3:30 pm. Her injury occurred at 10:00 am, when she tripped over her dog in the kitchen during a coffee break. The Telecommuting Agreement did not restrict the area where she could take breaks, where she could use the bathroom or what personal property she could keep in her home, including pets. The JCC determined that the agreement essentially established the claimant’s home as an extension of, or satellite office of the employer. This case was therefore no different than any normal employee sustaining an injury while getting coffee from the employer’s break room.
The analysis gets more complicated when you realize the multitude of situations that could arise with remote employees. What if a remote employee is injured while unloading their car? Or taking care of their children? What if they are injured while working from their local coffee shop? All three of those situations could either be compensable or non-compensable depending on the agreement between the employer and employee. Any remote employee agreement should clearly define the designated workspace in the house. If not, any injury occurring anywhere in the house or remote location could be deemed compensable. The agreement should also clearly define the employee’s working hours. Doing so makes it less likely that an injury occurring before or after work hours would be deemed compensable.
Any alleged injury occurring at home would still be subject to all existing case law regarding compensability. Any deviation from employment, such as cleaning the house or taking care of children would likely be sufficient to bring the injury outside of workers’ compensation coverage. These cases are quite fact specific, so please reach out to any of our offices for questions regarding compensability decisions.
 Pew Research Center, Changing Views about Work, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/03/14/chapter-1-changing-views-about-work/.