Many companies are not aware that they may be held liable for injuries to employees or other legal claims as a result of employees working remotely. In fact, legally, employers are responsible for providing the same safe work environment for telecommuters just as for employees who work on company property. In general, an employee injury or illness is compensable under workers’ compensation if it arises out of employment, regardless of the location the injury occurs. “Arising out of” refers to what the employee was doing at the time of the injury; “in the course of” refers to when the injury happened.
Courts have found that an employer’s lack of control over the conditions of an employee’s home-based work premises is irrelevant. For example, in Ameritech Servs., Inc. v. Workers Compensation Commission, 389 Ill. App. 3d 191 (App. 1st Dist. 2009), an Illinois court affirmed an arbitrator’s award of total permanent disability for life. The claimant had carried his demonstration equipment, computer, and printer on his right shoulder as he walked down the stairs from his apartment to his car and suffered a back injury. While convalescing, he obtained a master’s in business administration. The claimant also admitted that he did not perform a job search. Nevertheless, an arbitrator found that the injuries rendered him permanently and totally disabled. Courts and industrial accident boards have reached the same results where injuries arose from slip and fall accidents while employees took breaks from sitting in a home office.
The pandemic pushed businesses to respond to social distancing mandates to reduce the coronavirus’s spread (COVID-19) by allowing quickly or even requiring employees to work from home. Many employers did not have time to implement procedures to ensure that their employees have safe and legally compliant working environments at home. Going forward, surveys indicate that more employees will be telecommuting in the future. Employers need personnel policies to protect their employees from injuries during the workday at home. Contact me to discuss using a checklist for home office safety and other strategies to reduce remote employee injuries.
ABOUT KATHERINE WITHERSPOON FRY
For over 25 years, Katherine has provided her clients with robust representation in matters of employment and related business law. Katherine represents and counsels employers and executives in all facets of the employment relationship, including hiring, termination, discrimination, non-competition, Fair Labor Standards Act matters, issues regarding Family and Medical Leave and other leaves, whistleblowers’ complaints, and regulatory matters. As a litigator, she is well aware of the nuances of law necessary to draft effective restrictive covenants, severance agreements, and employment contracts. Along with her over 250 colleagues, she represents companies and non-profit organizations of all sizes. She has defended companies under investigation by both U.S. and state Departments of Labor and handled multiple matters before the EEOC.
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