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Telecommuting and Workers’ Compensation

An increasingly popular work arrangement includes a mix of office time and working from home, with the venue depending on the task at hand. In fact, a recent study by Brigham Young University of almost 25,000 IBM workers in 75 countries found that such an arrangement improves productivity, with employees being able to clock more hours of work before experiencing a conflict between their personal and work lives.

While telecommuting can be advantageous for both employee and employer, it poses challenges for Workers’ Compensation. Employees working from home are afforded the same protection as those working in the office. Compensation for an injury must meet the same qualifications as one suffered at the worksite – it must arise out of and in the course and scope of employment.

Employees working at home can create exposures that do not occur in the office setting. Generally, Workers’ Compensation benefits do not apply to employees traveling to and from work (the coming and going rule). While it is impossible to say if an injury incurred while driving from the home office to the office would be compensable, a compelling argument could be made that the employee was leaving one office per se to travel to another, therefore the entire trip may be considered in the course and scope of employment.

Moreover, employers are charged with providing a safe and healthy work environment; this extends to employees working from home. Employers have little control over home office design, but workers’ injuries from office-based injuries, such as repetitive motion injuries, can present themselves.

Telecommuting is most effective, when it is accompanied by flextime. This raises challenges in determining the work-relatedness of an injury. With regard to determining work-relatedness, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states, “In applying [the presumption of work-relatedness], the question employers must answer is whether there is an identifiable event or exposure which occurred in the work environment and resulted in the injury or illness. The case is work-related even if the employer cannot determine […] whether any particular workplace hazard caused the accident to occur.” Some employers have addressed this issue by requiring a login system.

On the other hand, there are certain benefits that telecommuting can have for Workers’ Comp. It often reduces stress and improves work/life balance, thus improving morale.

In all cases, it is critical that employers develop and telecommuters understand clear guidelines related to Workers’ Compensation and reporting injuries before the arrangement begins.