Under the current situation, fighting the coronavirus (COVID-19), many more people than usual are working from home than is usually the case. This has already been a problem for several years, but the situation has been a problem for some time, ever since companies began to figure out that technology makes it possible to have workers do their jobs somewhere other than the employer’s property.
Workers’ Comp Rules Still Apply
The cost savings of having their employees work from home has encouraged many employers to take advantage of modern technology to create what had been a growing phenomenon, even before we were touched with a pandemic. The coronavirus has sent the working-at-home philosophy into the stratosphere, which could very well make such arrangements permanent once we start the economy again and put it where it should be.
The one thing every employer should acknowledge that working employees from home is not perfect, nor does it excuse employers from all of their responsibilities. The fact of the matter is, injuries can occur at home just like they do in the workplace, which means that employers still have to carry workers’; compensation insurance, even if the worker is doing their job from home.
As a general rule, if at any point, an employee working from home takes time to perform tasks that have nothing to do with furthering their employer’s interests, but instead do work for their own personal benefit, any injury the worker sustains during the period of personal benefit cannot be considered within the scope of employment, which means that injury is not covered. However, whenever a worker is injured while doing work that benefits the employer, that injury and that worker will often be covered by the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy, which they must carry for all employees under Texas law.
Accident and Injury Claims Are Often, But Not Always, Valid
With the global pandemic surrounding the coronavirus, millions of employees nationwide have been told to work from home or given that option. Many employers probably believe that arrangement relieves them of responsibility, but whether the employee works from a makeshift home office at the dining room table or they set themselves up at the local café, they are still entitled to the coverage for workplace injuries.
Whenever the employee is injured while working solely for the benefit of their employer and they are injured, that injury is considered to be the employer’s responsibility. When an employee is injured while working at home, while most aspects of the case must be handled differently, the differences are nuanced and the employer is still responsible for keeping the employee safe while working for the employer’s benefit. Different questions must be asked, and different standards must be adhered to.
Coronavirus Does Not Create an Excuse
Of course, this has been an issue since long before COVID-19. Claims issues involving remote employees is not limited to worldwide pandemics. According to a 2010 report by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, nearly 24% of American workers reported routinely doing at least some, and often all, of their work from home. That’s a really high number, even though it was a decade ago. More recent studies have shown at least 60% of the country’s workforce works at least one day a week outside the formal workplace, while nearly 50 percent of employees work at least half the week outside of the office.
Employers concerned with workplace safety have precious little control over the employee’s home work environment. In addition, employees face increased challenges and risks when working from home. Whereas an accident at a workplace is likely to have witnesses or be caught on security video, workers who do their job at home usually work are often all by themselves while they work, meaning it can be difficult to corroborate that a traumatic injury or accident occurred as the worker said. It can also be difficult to determine the precise work conditions that led to the injury.
When a remote worker files an injury claim, Texas state officials will often evaluate these claims by distinguishing between expectations for workers who are stationary and those whose jo was not “furthering the purposes of the employer” when they decided to take a wall during their lunch break. L
The primary question regarding a workplace injury claim made by a remote worker depends on whether the employer ”necessarily exposes an employee to conditions which substantially contribute to the risk of injury.” In one case, the court determined that an employee who tripped over their dog while reaching for a cup of coffee had no claim because the risk existed before she took her job, and it would likely exist long after they ceased working for the employer. Therefore, the injury was in no way within the scope of their employment.
It is imperative that all employers who employ home workers understand that they still have an obligation to keep all workers safe and they also must keep their Workers’ Compensation insurance in force, even for employees who primarily work at home. The fact that a worker rarely sets foot in the formal workplace does not relieve you of responsibility for job-related accidents and injuries.