Remote work was rising long before COVID-19 restricted people to their homes. However, the concept wasn’t as popular, and only a few business owners viewed it as a viable approach to work.

Even with the business environment returning to normal, many companies embraced remote workers to cut overhead costs.

However, working from home presents a challenge in compensation for work-related injuries.

Under normal circumstances, the employee should recover damages for injuries suffered while on their course of duty. In remote settings, drawing a line on what is or is not part of work can be challenging. 

What Class of Workers Are Eligible for Workers’ Compensation?

There are two main classes of workers; employees and contractual workers, such as freelancers. Under employment laws, an employee is defined as a person hired by another person or entity to perform a specific task for pay. 

Also, they have to be under the employee’s control regarding what they can or cannot do. Workers classified as employees qualify for compensation for damages suffered when they are on the job, including when working from home. 

On the other hand, independent contractors or contractual workers are hired for a specific time, and how or when they work is mainly out of the hiring entity’s control. Remote workers classified as independent contractors are not eligible for compensation for injuries suffered in the workplace. 

Application of Workers’ Compensation for Remote Workers

Workers’ compensation laws were written long before the invention of the internet and never anticipated a situation where people would work from home. Therefore, no law addresses workers’ compensation for injuries that occur while working from home. 

The same approach used when compensating workers that suffer injuries while off-site, such as truck and delivery van drivers, is applicable for telecommuting workers. 

While working from home is convenient for employees, employers have very little control over the safety of workers. Also, when an employee files a claim, there may not be witnesses to corroborate the employee’s account. 

The Doctrine of Personal Comfort

Typically a worker qualifies for compensation if the injury results from an activity that is within their scope of employment or an activity that is in furtherance of employment. Interpretations for “scope of employment” and “furtherance of employment” can vary with state. However, most states apply the personal comfort doctrine. 

Under the personal comfort doctrine, an employee is deemed engaged in activity within their course of work even when they suffer harm when they are not engaged in a work-related activity as long as the activity is related to the employee’s comfort. Acts relating to personal comfort include:

  • Tea and lunch breaks.
  • Using the restroom.
  • Smoking breaks.
  • Seeking relief from discomfort.

The reasoning behind the personal comfort doctrine is that acts relating to personal comfort are contemplated and so do not interrupt the course of employment. 

Determination of an Act of Personal Comfort

When employees work from an office, establishing an act of personal comfort is pretty straightforward because the employee may not have many distractions while at work. 

When working from home, on the other hand, distractions are everywhere, determining whether an activity was an act of personal comfort or not quite challenging.

In the event of an accident while telecommuting, the most appropriate approach would be to report the incident to an employer, who will then report it to the insurer for investigation.

As an employee, you can’t always trust that the insurer will make the right call. So if you have suffered a severe injury in the workplace, which can be your home office, it is a good idea to hire a workers’ comp lawyer to better your chances of recovering compensation.

Reducing Telecommuting Accidents

Most states require employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. Even when your state doesn’t require you to have one, it would be a great idea to get one to avoid getting overwhelmed by paying damages in the event of an accident.

However, having insurance does not mean that telecommuting accidents will not affect a business. Every claim comes with an increase in the cost of premiums when renewing your cover, so you may need to create a strategy to keep accidents at bay, which can include: 

Establishing Guidelines for a Home Office Space 

Besides helping prevent accidents, establishing guidelines for the office space can help boost productivity. 

As the bare minimum, the office space should have an ergonomic desk and chair, proper lighting, and a closable door. Also, it has to be free of distractions. 

Create a Safety Checklist for the Office Space

Besides establishing a guideline for the office space, you may also want to create a safety checklist for the office space. The checklist should define what should or should not be in the working space. 

It should also provide tips about preventing common hazards. It would be best to create a culture of going through the checklist regularly to ensure safety is always on the mind of remote workers.