A 2018 study found that 70% of workers worldwide work remotely at least one day a week – and 53% work from home at least half the work week. With so many employees working outside the traditional office space, where does workers’ compensation coverage begin and end?
A recent case in Florida provides a good illustration of this concept. Tammitha Valcourt-Williams, whose employer allowed her to work from home, injured her knee, hip, and shoulder during work hours when she tripped over her dog. Ironically, Valcourt-Williams worked as a workers’ compensation claims adjuster.
A Judge of Compensation Claims granted her workers’ compensation benefits. The court of appeals disagreed.
Did the injury “arise out of” the employment?
On appeal, the court in Valcourt-Williams’ case noted that a remote employee injured during their work hours has one primary hurdle to overcome: They must show the risks that led to their injury were work-related.
The Judge of Compensation Claims found a reasonable risk that an employee could injure themselves while taking a coffee break, whether they work from home or not. However, the appeals court focused on the fact that Valcourt-Williams did not simply trip while reaching for her coffee cup. She tripped over her dog while reaching for a coffee cup.
The court pointed out that as long as Valcourt-Williams has a dog, she will risk tripping over it whether she is working or not.
The bottom line
This case illustrates the fact that while remote employees can qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, they may have a harder time proving their case. Will every remote employee injured during work hours have to show the risk of injury was purely tied to the “work environment” of their home? As more and more employees begin to work remotely, this area of workers’ compensation law will likely continue to develop.