Here’s What Remote Workers Need to Know About Workers’ Comp

Woman working on laptop with back pain

Working from home has its perks, but it’s not working for everyone. Some remote workers struggle to find a work-life balance, leading to increased anxiety, frustration, and, ultimately, burnout. Others are trying to make do with their makeshift workstations, having left their ergonomic, company-provided desk and chair at the office. They may be suffering from physical pain as a result.

One year into the pandemic and these factors are gradually taking their toll. In extreme cases, remote employees may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Here’s what you need to know.

When Remote Workers Qualify for Workers’ Comp in California

An employee who suffered an injury or illness while working from home may qualify for workers’ compensation, but there’s a catch: To successfully claim workers’ compensation benefits, the employee must prove he or she sustained the injury while acting in the interest of the employer – not easy given that most home offices won’t have many people to corroborate testimony.

There is, however, precedent for this type of accident. In 2002, a woman injured her head and neck when she fell down the stairs trying to answer the phone ringing in her home office. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled in her favor citing her home as an approved “secondary work premise.” Because she was injured while attempting to answer the phone, benefits were awarded.

This case underscores that many courts will not distinguish between a workplace accident and an accident that occurred in a home-based work environment. In short, employers must provide the same safe workplace for remote workers as they do for those who work on company property. That means employers must:

  • Establish a comprehensive telecommuting policy that sets clear job expectations and record-keeping procedures.
  • Create guidelines for maintaining a healthy home office and ergonomic workstation.
  • Set fixed work hours, including meal and rest breaks. (This can help prove that an injury occurred while on company time.)

Common Work-From-Home Injuries

The likelihood that you’ll injure your neck falling down the stairs to answer a work-related phone call, like in the case above, is slim. That was an extreme example of a work-from-home injury. Suffering from a repetitive stress injury or mental or emotional harm is more common for remote workers.

Repetitive stress injuries (RSI): This type of injury happens gradually. For office workers, RSI commonly stems from using a computer mouse and typing. Common RSIs include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Bursitis
  • Rotator cuff tendonitis
  • Tennis elbow

Excessive use of computer screens and bad posture can also contribute to long-term discomfort or injury. To prevent this, employers should provide training to ensure remote employees set up an ergonomic workstation. They should also provide the necessary equipment or cover the costs to procure it. California Labor Code mandates that employers reimburse employees for “all necessary expenditures or losses” incurred while doing their jobs. This would include purchasing a desk, chair, and computer equipment.

In short, California law requires employers to provide a “healthful and safe” work environment, whether on company property or a remote office.

Mental or emotional injuries: The sudden shift from working on-site to at home has produced at least one unexpected side effect: Many remote workers report feelings of isolation and increased anxiety brought on by longer working hours and lack of sleep. Burnout is a very real risk.

California is one of several states that covers “psychiatric injuries.” Benefits might include coverage for medical treatment and temporary disability if you had to take time off work. However, the burden of proof is on the employee to demonstrate that “actual events of employment” were responsible for at least 51% of the disorder.

Filing a so-called “psych claim” poses many other hurdles. Before qualifying for benefits, your personal life will be scrutinized for financial troubles, drug use, and criminal history, among other factors that may have contributed to your distress.

Whether you’ve suffered a physical or mental injury while working from home, filing for workers’ compensation can be complicated and time-consuming. The compensation lawyers at Ufkes & Bright can provide you compassionate counsel to guide you through the claims process successfully.

Get in touch with our legal team today by calling (714) 909-2609 or contact us here.

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