With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing countless businesses to shut their doors, many companies are moving their workforce to their homes at least temporarily while this situation is ongoing. This means that thousands of Alabamans are working from home for the first time.
With so many employees working remotely, telecommuters often wonder whether or not they would be covered by workers’ compensation for an injury that happens at home. The short answer to the question is the same as if you are working on-site – you are covered by workers’ comp if the injury is “work related”. That said, the lines between personal and work activities for telecommuters can get pretty blurry, and it can be more difficult to prove that an injury is work-related when it happens at home.
Here are a few scenarios that may help clarify this question:
- Bob works out of his home office upstairs, but his office does not have room for his filing cabinet, so he keeps his files in the basement. Bob is on a conference call with his coworkers when he is asked about information that is contained in one of his files. While walking downstairs to grab the file, he trips and falls down the stairs, injuring his head and back. Because Bob was on the clock and performing a work-related task, workers’ compensation should cover him for this injury.
- Sue also works out of her home office upstairs, performing telecommuting tasks such as phone and computer work. During the middle of her workday, she decides to put in a load of laundry. While carrying the laundry basket downstairs to the laundry room, she slips and falls and hurts her lower back. In this case, even though Sue was “on the clock”, her injury occurred while doing something that was not work-related. Therefore, she would probably not be covered by workers’ comp for her injury.
- John is working in his home office when he receives a call from his supervisor. While running across the room to grab the phone, John trips over his dog and gets hurt. In a case like this, you have an at-home employee who is performing a work-related task, but the injury is caused by a personal factor – his dog. Employers and workers’ comp insurers might try to deny a claim like this because the dog was involved, but courts have generally held that in this type of scenario, the injury would be work-related.
Are Independent Contractors Covered for Injuries while Working from Home?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is “no”. Workers’ compensation laws apply to employees only, and they do not extend to independent contractors. However, there is some confusion about who is an employee and who is an independent contractor.
In general, an independent contractor is defined as someone who is only responsible for the finished product or service but has full control over the way the work is performed. An independent contractor also provides his/her own tools, equipment, and skills to complete the job. With employees, on the other hand, companies control or have the right to control how they perform their job.
There are some cases in which a company misclassifies someone as an independent contractor who should be classified as an employee. And it is important to note that contracts stating that someone is an independent contractor are not sufficient to establish this relationship. These types of cases are extremely complex, however, and if you believe that you should be classified as an employee and you were hurt while working from home, you should talk to an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible.
Greater Burden of Proof with Work-At-Home Injuries
Telecommuting injuries are typically far more difficult to prove than an injury that occurs in the workplace. This is because there are usually no witnesses when someone gets injured at home. If this has happened to you, it is important to document what happened in great detail (including multiple photographs showing how the accident was caused in the injuries that occurred), report the injury to your employer right away, and seek prompt medical treatment.
Because there is so much gray area with work-from-home injuries, a lot of incidents that should be covered end up getting denied. For this reason, those who get injured at home need strong legal counsel by their side working hard to secure the benefits they need and deserve.
Injured in a Remote Workplace Accident in Alabama? Contact Burge & Burge for Assistance
If you or a someone close to you got hurt while working from home, Burge & Burge is here to help. Like everyone else, we have taken all of the precautions and made the necessary adjustments to stay safe while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing. But rest assured, we are open, fully operational, and ready to advocate aggressively on your behalf like we have always done.
To schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled and knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorneys, message us online or call our office today at 205-251-9000.