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Workers’ Compensation and Employees Who Work from Home

In the workers’ compensation scenario that most people envision, an employee is injured at work while on site. Of course, many people do not work directly at their employer’s work site. Delivery drivers and construction workers are just two examples of employees who are more likely to be injured on property that does not belong to their employer. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work, or working from home, was an option available to only some employees. At the height of the pandemic, and after, the amount of workers working from home has increased exponentially. This has led to a number of employment related questions about employee and employer expectations, and in particular, to what happens if an employee is injured while working from home but during working hours? Does workers’ compensation still apply?

Who must have workers’ compensation?

North Carolina law requires that all employers (with a few limited exceptions) with 3 or more employees have workers’ compensation insurance. The law applies to employers who have employees at physical job sites and those who have employees who work from home. 

What does workers’ compensation provide for? 

North Carolina’s workers’ compensation statute requires that employers, through workers’ compensation insurance, pay for an injured employee’s medical bills and a portion of their lost wages if that employee was injured on the job. In the case of permanent injury, or the death of an employee, additional benefits may be available to the employee or their family members. 

While workers’ compensation is insurance that applies to employees injured on the job site, one of the key components of workers’ compensation is that it also applies to employees injured while performing their job duties. That last phrase, while performing their job duties, is particularly important when dealing with injuries to employees working at home or working at a different location. For example, an employee working in an office who, while walking to the copier, tripped over a computer cord, fell and broke his/her leg, would have an injury that would likely be covered by workers’ compensation. On the other hand, an employee working from home, who trips over a cord and breaks his/her leg, would have a much harder time proving that they had a workers’ compensation covered injury. 

Is a person working from home an employee or an independent contractor?

One of the important questions that arises in any workers’ compensation case, but may arise more frequently when dealing with a remote employee is, is that person actually an employee or are they an independent contractor?  This is important because independent contractors typically do not have the same benefits that employees have, and that includes workers’ compensation. Independent contractors are often hired to complete a certain task or assignment. They work independently, providing their own equipment, and they decide how the assignment is completed. They have a greater autonomy over their work than employees do.

Employees who work from home might be confused with independent contractors because they are not under the constant supervision that an employee in the office is. Their work hours may vary from the traditional 9-5 of an office and that can lead to some confusion. However, neither of these makes an employee an independent contractor and remote workers are eligible for workers’ compensation. 

Even independent contractors can be entitled to workers’ compensation insurance if they have been mislabeled as an independent contractor but really function as an employee. The North Carolina Industrial Commission will review the relationship between the parties before determining whether an independent contractor/employer relationship or employee/employer relationship exists. 

How do I prove that an injury that happened at home actually happened while I was working?

In order for an injury incurred at home to qualify for workers’ compensation, there are a number of questions that first need to be asked including:

  1. Did the employer benefit from the work being done at the time when the injury occurred?
  2. Was the activity the employee was engaged in a work-related one? Was it one that was a required part of the job?
  3. Did the employer, in advance, approve the activity that led to the injury?

If the answer to any of the above-questions is yes, then it is more likely that a covered workers’ compensation injury has occurred. 

Proving an injury happened during work hours at home is definitely more difficult than proving that an injury happened on the job site. For example, on a job site, there are more likely to be witnesses or video footage of the accident captured by a security camera. For employees working from home, there are likely no witnesses nor any security footage of the accident or injury. 

Employers, in an attempt to limit their liability to pay workers’ compensation to remote employees, may impose certain conditions on employees who work from home including:

  1. Setting specific hours of work. If an employer states that an employee is expected to work between the hours of 9 and 5, and the employee is injured at 7:30, that employer could have an argument that the injury did not occur during time approved by the employer and that the employee was not therefore engaged in a work related activity and is therefore not entitled to workers’ compensation.
  2. Setting clear expectations. Employers might require that employees have a designated workspace, keep track of all time work by checking in at the beginning of the day and out at the end, and that certain equipment be used. An employer who asserts that an injury occurred outside of these parameters may have a greater chance of getting a workers’ compensation claim denied. 

As a result of the unique challenges remote employees face when injured on the job, it is more important than ever to hire an attorney who is versed in workers’ compensation law and can advise a remote employee about the likelihood of success in a workers’ compensation claim. 

Call Our Charlotte, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorneys 

The Charlotte, NC lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced workers’ compensation lawyers.They are available to discuss your workers’ compensation injury, or the loss of your loved one due to a fatal workplace injury, and to help you navigate the legal process during a difficult time. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.

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