The Home Office: Blurring The Lines in Workers’ Compensation Cases

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“Yes, I’m working from home today.” This sentence seems to become more commonplace in today’s society since nearly a quarter of U.S. workers complete at least some of their work from home. Workers’ compensation, a type of insurance most employers are required to carry in the event of employee injury, is severely complicated by this new, flexible work trend. As work and home start mixing more and more, it can be difficult to determine when someone is actually “working” and when they are merely at home.

 Scope of Employment

 The primary basis for workers’ compensation claims is that the accident or injury had to occur at or during the injured employee’s scope of employment. The scope of employment generally includes things you do on a regular basis, that you are required to do as part of your known job description, or something you were specifically requested to do by a superior. Many workers’ compensation claims involve injuries in labor-intensive jobs such as construction, but some also include premises liability—adverse conditions that cause an injury at the workplace. When the workplace is now someone’s home, it can be unclear who may be responsible for such injuries. Surely your employer cannot be responsible for making sure your spouse did not negligently leave your child’s teddy bear for you to trip and fall on, right?

Not necessarily. A Pennsylvania court held that an employee who injured herself on stairs while running to get a work call was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits and leave. This case was in 2006, just when telecommuting became more popular and feasible from a business perspective. Since then, some companies have tried to offset the possibility of such claims by establishing fixed hours, defining a specific part of the home as the work area, and maintaining clear communication between the employer and the employee. This can still leave problems though; it is not difficult to imagine scenarios such as going to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, going to the restroom to use the facilities—small tangents no one lifts a brow for at an office that may suddenly become “outside the scope of your employment” if at home. These types of considerations also come up when traveling to and from work, answering phone calls in the car, or simply stopping to get gas. These types of trips may be defined under the law as a “detour” or a “frolic”; detours are minor, work-related stops that will usually be covered under workers’ compensation claims, where a frolic would be considered a personal errand, unrelated to the employment relationship.

 What if I Am Injured Working From Home?

 The first thing to consider is making sure you and your employer set firm boundaries and guidelines for when you are working at home. Upfront conversations about expectations can do wonders when understanding your (and your employer’s) potential liability when working at home. If you or anyone you know has been injured at work, whether you were working in the office or from your private home, our experienced Philadelphia-based workers’ compensation attorneys at Solnick & Associates LLC may be able to help you. We understand how frustrating an injury can be and how stressful it can be from a financial perspective. We know how to get the ball rolling on your claim and how to ensure your application for benefits is done completely and accurately the first time around. Even if you have previously applied and been denied benefits in the past, we may be able to help you appeal. There is no reason you should have to wait any longer than necessary to receive benefits you are entitled to by law; contact us today and let us help you move forward.

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