Can I Get Workers’ Comp If I Was Working From Home?
Workers’ compensation can apply to remote work, but it’s complicated
Remote work was already on the rise prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and it has become dramatically more common since. As such, there are more and more legal questions being raised about how a system that was designed with traditional employer-managed workplaces in mind will interact with work from home.
On its face, workers’ compensation is agnostic to the worker’s physical location. It doesn’t matter whether you were on your employer’s premises; what matters is whether you were injured “in the course and scope of employment.” In principle, this means injuries while working at home should be covered in the same manner as injuries while working at the office.
The problem is that defining “course and scope of employment” gets trickier when the employee is working from home and can easily shift between employment activities and non-employment activities.
New York law holds home workplaces to the same standards as traditional workplaces
The State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department ruled that the Workers’ Compensation Board must follow its previous long-established standard (that is, the same standard that has applied to New York workers for decades) when assessing injuries sustained while working at home. The Appellate Division’s decision reversed an earlier decision by the Board to apply a stricter standard to remote workers.
Notably, if the employee engages in a regular pattern of work at home, the home achieves the status of a place of employment. In other words, “I was checking my work email at home” generally doesn’t rise to the level of being compensable, but “I work at home every Friday, and I was injured working at home on Friday” does.
While this is an evolving area of law, there are several circumstances in which an injury sustained while working at home should be compensable:
- The employee was at work and actively engaged in one of their regular job responsibilities when the injury occurred.
- The employee was at work and injured during a “momentary deviation” from their job responsibilities, such as a coffee break. Such breaks are covered by workers’ compensation when they occur at the office, so they should also be covered while working from home.
- The employee was injured while engaged in another work-related activity that was not purely personal in nature, such as moving equipment required for their remote-work setup.
- The injury was sustained over a period of time through completing work duties – for instance, repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.
In short, if you were on the clock, engaged in work activities, or in the midst of a momentary break from your work activities when you were injured, your injury could very well be covered by workers’ compensation, even when working at home. However, your injuries are not compensable if you were engaged in a “purely personal” activity and thus not covered by workers’ comp.
New York law presumes that injuries during work hours are work-related
Under New York Workers’ Compensation Law § 21(1), injuries at work are presumed to be work-related unless the employer or the insurance company can show evidence to the contrary. Again, the law says nothing about where the injury takes place, but as a practical matter, when an employee is injured working at home, there are rarely witnesses other than the injured worker who can speak to what happened (unless the injury happened during a videoconference or similar).
As such, while the employer and the insurance company are certainly within their rights to request documentation, they cannot deny a claim on the grounds that you can’t prove you were on the job when the injury happened because you were at home. The presumption is that you were working, and the onus is on the employer and the insurance company to prove that you weren’t working if they want to deny your claim on that basis.
Reporting a work injury if you’re working from home
As with any work-related injury, the safest option if you are injured while working from home is to notify your employer as soon as possible. Contact your direct manager or supervisor, or if they’re unavailable, their supervisor or someone else in the “chain of command” to report the injury. Make sure you report the injury in writing (email is fine); if you have to call your boss to make sure they find out right away, do so, but send an immediate follow-up email to ensure that you have a written record.
From that point forward, the claim proceeds like any other workers’ comp claim. See a doctor right away – remember, in New York, you can generally go to any doctor authorized by the Workers’ Compensation Board to treat injured workers, though if the insurance company has a PPO, you must see a doctor in the PPO for the first 30 days. Make sure you tell the doctor you were at work when the injury happened and describe all your symptoms in as much detail as you can. Keep copies of all medical documents for your own records.
More broadly, it’s especially important to document everything after an injury during remote work. Given the somewhat murky legal status of working at home as well as more general misconceptions about remote work, it is highly likely that the insurance company will dispute your claim or downplay the extent of your injuries.
Click here to download a printable PDF of the "Workers' Comp and Work From Home" infographic.
If you’re hurt working at home, you need an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer
When a worker is injured while working at home, the best practice is to talk to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney right away. Again, providing that your injury was truly work-related can be difficult in this situation. You need to be prepared to answer questions about what you were doing and whether you were in the course and scope of your employment at the time of the injury. The sooner you talk to a lawyer, the more effectively you will be able to protect your rights.
If you were injured while working at home in New York, we would be honored to listen to your story and explain your legal options. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP.