Does Workers' Compensation Cover Remote Employees?
The vast majority of states require employers to carry workers' compensation insurance, which helps pay lost wages, medical expenses, and rehabilitation costs for employees who are injured while doing a work-related activity. Workers' compensation also helps cover funeral expenses for employees who suffer a work-related fatality. In some cases, it provides death benefits to eligible surviving family members.
Workers' compensation is commonly provided to on-site employees. But with the explosion of remote work, whether remote employees are eligible for workers' compensation is a pressing concern for many employers.
Are remote employees covered?
If the state requires the employer to provide workers' compensation, then the short answer is yes, employees are covered by workers' compensation if the injury or illness "arises out of employment" and happens "in the course of employment." This is true regardless of whether the employee was working on-site or remotely when the accident occurred.
The Cornell Law School website offers the following definitions:
- An accident "arises out of" employment when the employment was the cause of the accident that resulted in the injury.
- If an accident occurs "in the course of employment," it occurs within the period of employment, at a place where the employee reasonably may be in the performance of the employee's duties and while the employee is fulfilling the employee's duties or is engaged in something incidental thereto. "In the course of" is a broader term than "arises out of."
Usually, the onus is on the injured employee to prove that they were acting in the interest of their employer when they suffered the injury.
What about employees who work from home?
There are many gray areas when it comes to health and safety for home-based employees. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, courts have ruled that it does not matter that the employer has no control over the employee's home environment. If the evidence indicates that the injury is work-related, then the injured employee is entitled to workers' compensation.
For example, in the case of Munson v. Wilmar/Interline Brands, the employee, Gary Munson, was performing a task required by his employer when he suffered an injury. Per the court documents, while working from home, as required by his employer, Munson "was injured while descending stairs to get a cup of coffee."
The court recognized that it can be difficult to determine liability for remote employees who are injured at home. However, based on the specific circumstances of the case, the court found that Munson's claim was compensable under the “personal comfort doctrine.”
Employers with home-based employees can reduce workers' compensation claims by developing a remote-work policy that clearly states the employer's expectations for home-based employees. They can also offer safety measures and training to employees who work from home.
SHRM advises remote-work employers to establish fixed work hours and meal and rest breaks, as this can help determine whether an injury happened "in the course of employment." Because this can be a complicated topic, you should get qualified professional advice on your situation.
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