Are Telecommuters Entitled to Workers’ Compensation?

Posted on Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 at 2:00 pm    

In today’s economy with its emphasis on technology, many North Carolina and Virginia workers are working from home. From home, they can access the Internet, download files from the cloud, have videoconferences when needed, and create or use company software. Some workers, such as nurses and salespeople do all their work from home and/or on the road visiting clients. Others work at the company office but take an occasional day to work from their house or apartment. While working with a computer or reading files may not seem like a likely place for an accident, home accidents can occur for many different reasons.

An employee can trip and fall over a wire, fall down the stairs, slip on ice while going to the car, or suffer a heart attack. A fire is just as likely to occur at home as it is at the office. It is generally not a requirement that the employer inspected the employee’s work environment – most employers do not bother to check. Many workers who do sit-down jobs suffer back aches, neck injuries, and repetitive stress injuries.

At the Law Offices of Joe Miller Esq., we have helped thousands of workers get justice when an accident happens. We have been providing this advocacy for over 25 years. Our legal counsel extends to all types of workers including at-home employees and workers who may be working from an offsite location. Part of our counsel is to explain that under the right circumstances, telecommuters are entitled to state workers’ compensation benefits, which includes payment for medical bills and 2/3rds of average weekly wages.

Why telecommuting is so popular

Both employers and employees like the advantages of telecommuting. For employers, it can be saving on expenses for office rooms, utilities, and office furniture, and generally the ability to expand into new territories without having to invest in “brick and mortar.” It also means a happier workforce because many workers enjoy the convenience of working from home. For employees, telecommuting means no need to spend hours on the road to report to a central office, less gasoline costs, the ability to sleep a littler later, and often a more relaxed dress code. Plus, homeworkers can listen to their own music and create their own work environment.

Statistics from Global Workplace Analytics confirm the popularity of telecommuting:

  • Half of all workers have a job where some telecommunicating makes sense and about a quarter of all workers do telecommunicate regularly
  • Over ¾ of all US workers say they would like to telecommunicate part of the week – with two to three days being the preferred amount of time
  • Many large companies are already transitioning to making teleworking viable
  • Many telecommuters are high-end salary earners
  • 7 million employees now telecommute at least half the week

How does Workers’ compensation insurance and working from home work?

First, it is important to remember that the injured worker does not have to prove an employer was at fault for the accident. The key requirements are to show that an accident happened that is work-related and that the employee’s injuries were caused by that accident. The trade-off is that employees can’t sue their employer for pain and suffering and they only get 2/3rds of their lost wages instead of the full amount of lost earnings, for up to 500 weeks.

When an accident happens at work it is usually clear that the accident was related to the employee’s work. Accidents at home require a little more proof that the accident was work-related. At-home accidents are more likely to be questioned by insurance companies and defense lawyers who will argue that that the accident was related to something personal the worker was doing instead of actual work. A worker at the office who falls while going to the bathroom is entitled to benefits. If the same type of accident happens at home, it may be attacked.

Did the accident happen during the course of the worker’s employment?

This is a different question than asking if the accident was work-related. Work-related means that some identifiable work task was being performed. During the course of employment means that the employee was working for the company or boss at the time of the accident. An accident that happens at 3 in the morning because a regular 9 to 5 worker decides to do some word processing because he can’t sleep may not be considered during the course of employment.

Many telecommuters login to a computer system and log out at the end of the day. Workers who were properly logged in and are hurt while logged in have a stronger case than other workers.

Another item that may be considered: Did the employee typically start the day with a conference call with his or her boss to go over the day’s assignments? If the worker was hurt subsequent to the morning meeting, this may be a good indication of being injured in the course of employment.

What was the worker doing at the time? Was he or she carrying items such as files or equipment related to the work to be performed? This would weigh strongly in favor of an injury occurring in the course of employment.

Independent contractor vs. employee

Many telecommuters are not full-time employees. Only employees are entitled to collect North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation benefits. There are a number of factors the states will review in deciding if the worker was an employee or independent contractor. The abilities of the employer to control the manner and time of work are key factors. Workers who use company software through the Internet may be more likely to be considered employees than workers who use their own software.

As mentioned previously a daily, scheduled meeting to discuss the day’s planned activities is also a good indicator of control. Also, does the employer require that the employee wear a company uniform or other clothing when going on appointments? Also, how is the worker paid? Is it per contract or job completed, or on a regular, weekly basis? Does the worker have to invoice the work?
As with any type of injury, the worker still needs to inform the employer that an accident has happened. Workers are not required to return back to work until they can do the telecommuting job they were doing before the accident.

Speak with an experienced telecommuting workplace accident lawyer today

The laws on telecommuting and entitlement to worker’s compensation are evolving. North Carolina and Virginia work injury attorney Joe Miller understands the laws and many of the practical issues involved in claiming benefits for at-home injuries. For help now, please call Joe Miller at (888) 694-1671 or use his contact form.