By Seth Heyman

Imagine having to defend a workers’ compensation claim against an employee who injured himself when he tripped over an extension cord in his own house. Could that really happen?

The answer is yes, if the employee is a telecommuter.

Worker’s Comp Rules of Thumb

First, some background on worker’s compensation:

To prevail on a workers’ comp claim, an injured employee must demonstrate that his injury occurred “within the course of and arising out of” his or her employment. The requirement applies whether or not the employee is working from the office or from home.

Proving that the injury occurred “in the course of employment” depends largely upon when and where the injury occurred, and the circumstances of the accident.

To receive worker’s comp, the worker must establish the causal connection between the employment and the injury.

To show that the injury “arose out of” his or her employment, the worker must establish the causal connection between the employment and the injury. In other words, the worker must have been engaged in an activity consistent with their employment and logically related to the employer’s business. Generally, accidents that occur while an employee is running a personal errand during the work day are not covered.

These rules are simple enough to apply when your employee is working in the office. If the employee breaks his knee falling down the stairs on his way to a meeting, the case is pretty cut-and-dry in favor of a claim. But if the same injury occurs at a restaurant during the lunch hour, the employee is on his own.

Reducing Your Company’s Risk

So what about the hapless employee who tripped over the extension cord while working from home? If the accident occurred during work hours, while the employee was walking from the computer to the printer to retrieve a work document, then coverage is likely. If, however, the employee cut off a finger while slicing a bagel during a break, then a workers’ comp claim will probably fail.

The facts surrounding the injury in question are crucial, and the facts are much easier to establish or refute when the injury occurs at the office, in front of witnesses. Because there are unlikely to be disinterested witnesses at a worker’s house, one of the more important aspects determining whether a home-based worker will prevail on a workers’ compensation claim is the issue of his or her credibility.

A telecommuter’s credibility will play a part in determining whether he or she receives worker’s comp.

This is where you as an employer can minimize risk. Consider taking the following steps if you’re going to embrace telecommuting:

1.) Make sure you know the employee is responsible and has a good worth ethic. Not all workers are suited to working from home.

2.) Set defined work hours.

3.) Do your best to monitor your employee’s activities when working from home. For example, require the employee to log in to a network while working and log out during breaks and while at lunch.

Establish a clearly written telecommuting policy and make sure it’s included in your company’s employee handbook.

Request a free proposal from Seth.

About the author

Seth Heyman

Seth Heyman

For the past 20 years, Seth has represented businesses on matters ranging from entity formation and contract management to advertising law, regulatory law, global operations and Internet law. He has served as in-house counsel for companies, both public and private, where he was responsible for regulatory compliance, contract management, corporate governance and HR best practices.

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