Since last year, employers transitioned from working at their employer’s business location to their homes. Twenty-two percent of the nation’s workforce or 36.2 million Americans will work remotely by 2025, according to Upwork. New Jersey’s workers’ compensation may still govern work-related injuries suffered at home.
Coverage for a work-related injury or illness arises out of and in the course of business no matter where it occurred. The term arising out of is related to the employee’s actions when the injury occurred. The term in the course of is related to when the injury occurred. These injuries can occur suddenly or, like carpal tunnel syndrome, take place over time.
Employees often have the burden of proving that an injury was work-related. This may be difficult when an employee is at home and there are no witnesses to back up the worker’s explanation of events.
A case from Pennsylvania is an example of a work-related injury being compensated even though it occurred in the worker’s home. An employee fell down steps in her home in 2006 and injured her neck. The accident occurred when she was working in her basement office and walked upstairs for a drink. She fell when she went back downstairs to answer a phone in her office.
Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation judge and appeal board ruled in her favor and awarded compensation. An appellate court ruled that her home office was an approved secondary work premise and that she was injured in the course and scope of her employment.
In addition to having workers’ compensation insurance, employers should help assure that home workspaces are safe. Precautions include establishing regular hours of work and meal and rest times and having a definition covering activities in the course of employment.
Employers need to require remote workers to set up a designated and dedicated area for work. There should be training on creating a workstation which includes ergonomic best practices. Employers may also consider providing equipment and furniture to prevent injuries.
This is an evolving area and seeking compensation may be complicated by the lack of witnesses at a remote work site. Attorneys can help employees who suffer a work-related injury or illness protect their rights and seek benefits.