Workers’ compensation claims have traditionally centered around claims in the office…but what happens when an injury occurs in a home office? HR professionals are increasingly having to contend with such claims as many workforces have shifted to remote models during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Determining fault and legitimacy in worker’s compensation claims can be tricky even under the best of circumstances. When an injury occurs remotely, navigating through the process may feel impossible. It’s difficult to figure out whether a remote injury occurred during the course of work or after hours. Even if an accident occurs on the clock, it could still be the result of some type of nonwork activity—perhaps the worker is letting their dog out, taking a walk around the block or cooking. Maybe they tripped over a computer cord. Even the clock itself doesn’t always help; many employers have been more lenient with working hours, allowing employees to adjust their schedules to non-traditional times. As a result, an injury at 8 p.m. could still very well be work-related, while one that occurs at 2 p.m. might not be. Without witnesses, proving exactly when and where an injury happened is extremely difficult. But with the number of telecommuting workers’ claims on the rise during the pandemic, this is a very real issue for many companies—one that requires figuring out.
One thing that could prove helpful: the types of accidents and injuries being reported often mirror those in the workplace. Claims usually revolve around tripping and falling, straining the back and carpal tunnel injuries, all of which will be familiar to those who have been dealing with workers’ claims for any significant length of time.
Your best defense is a proactive one: draft a telework contract in advance, spelling out the required job duties and location, expected work output and job hours, including start/finish and break times. This, at least, will help narrow down fault.
Other possible defenses that might be applicable include:
- Notice defenses. Did the teleworker notify their supervisor in a timely manner about the injury?
- Misrepresentation defenses. Is the employee taking advantage of a preexisting condition in order to help offset expenses?
- Occupation-related disease defenses. Is the worker claiming hazards that exceed those in traditional workplace settings?
When responding to claims, it’s best to take into account a number of factors, including the employee’s prior work history, integrity and ability to follow telecommuting policies and timely claims reporting. Sometimes, you’ll just have to take their word for it.