The rule has always been that employers are liable for employees workers’ compensation when injuries arise in the workplace. However, in recent years, rules had to be adjusted with the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and countless offices requiring their employees to work from home. The workplace culture is forever changed as a result of COVID-19 and new norms have been established. Even as many business have slowly began to reopen, working from home may be here to stay and has become much more normal than it was prior to the pandemic.
Remote workers have come into question as to whether or not they are eligible to receive workers’ compensation. Some people say no, arguing that since they are at home and not in a traditional workplace setting, then it doesn’t qualify as a work injury. Others however, disagree and argue that if the injury happens during work hours and is work related, then workers’ compensation must be provided.
The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board had to find the answer to the question: “Are work injuries sustained at home in New York covered by workers’ compensation?”
To answer this in short, yes – workers’ compensation is covered by New York for remote workers. The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board articulated the following rule: “injuries sustained by employees working from home should only be found to be compensable when they occur during the employee’s regular work hours and while the employee is ‘actually performing her employment duties”. It is tricky to digest who is responsible for a work injury at home when there is no one around to see what happened. Following the honor system and trusting that people are telling the whole truth regarding unwitnessed accidents is not reliable. For this reason, the Workers’ Compensation Board has strongly recommended that in the event of an injury, employees must provide a detailed report of the incident including time, place, and circumstances surrounding the incident. This way, the events are well documented and can allow for proper review by the board.
Examples of Common Work from Home Injuries:
- Back related injuries: Many remote workers are getting their work done from their couches, at their kitchen tables, their beds, or their coffee tables. A combination of sitting hunched over and poor posture results in back pain.
- Rotator cuff injuries: Pinched nerves in the neck and cervical spine have gone up
- Eye strain and fatigue: Squinting at a small laptop monitor without taking breaks can lead to eye strain and fatigue resulting In headaches, blurry vision, and dry itchy eyes
- Wrist pain and Carpal tunnel syndrome: lack of wrist support can put strain on the wrist.
Working compensation claims are not always cut and dry, and of course, there is some grey area when defining what a work from home injury consists of. Additionally, It’s no secret that people love to find loop holes especially when it comes to receiving money. With the flexibility that comes along with working from a home setting, it became much easier to do this. An off-the-clock injury can be misconstrued into a work related injury all too easily if worded properly. This is why there must be a clear understanding and distinction between personal activities and work related tasks. Activities like taking a short break, getting something to eat, or exercising don’t fall into the category of being eligible for workers’ compensation.
The home environment allows for many distractions and opportunities to deter from employment-related tasks. Making sure that these personal activities don’t get tangled up as a work related task is the most challenging part of classifying which cases are compensable while working remotely.
If you have any questions… Contact Losi & Gangi to speak with one of our workers’ compensation lawyers at (716) 854-1446.