Are WFH Injuries Covered Under Workers’ Comp?
Are Injuries that occur while working at home covered under California Workers' Compensation?
Even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent government-mandated stay-at-home orders, more and more employees were working from home. The WFH life offers more flexibility and less time stuck in traffic. In fact, according to one recent poll, about half of Americans currently working from home do not want to return to the office.
With so many workers opting to stay put, the obvious question is whether workers’ compensation covers injuries that occur while working from home.
The answer is a resounding YES. Whether you’re working at a makeshift WFH office, slumped over the couch, or sitting in bed, you are covered by workers’ compensation insurance and entitled to benefits. The one complication when dealing with WFH work-related injuries is proving that the injury is in fact work-related.
California WFH Workers’ Comp
Under California Labor Code section 3600(a), in order to qualify for workers’ compensation an employee must demonstrate that the injury was “within the course of his or her employment.” In other words, you need to show that you were doing something for work, during regular work hours, at the time of the injury.
The law denies compensation for injuries sustained outside of employment. So even if you decide to “take work home with you” and continue working from home after-hours, the law may not recognize that as “work-related.” Now, if your boss asked you to work over-time and allowed you to do that over-time while at home, the law would view that as “work-related. In a similar vein, any injuries that occur during a regular commute to or from the workplace would likely NOT qualify for workers’ comp because your commute technically takes place outside of regular work hours.
The only exception to the above stipulation is when the home acts a second jobsite—when your employer authorizes you to work from home and you complete usual work duties away from the usual workplace. Just about everyone (including temporary, part-time and sometimes even contractors) working from home due to the pandemic falls under this exception and is eligible for workers’ comp.
So if you are injured while working from home (and this includes carpal tunnel syndrome or an aggravated migraine or eye irritation due to long hours staring at a laptop screen) both you and your employer would proceed with the same protocols. And as long as you file a claim within one year from the date of your job-related injury or illness, you are entitled to benefits.
Proving Work Relation
The fact that you can take step in and out of a WFH workspace as many times in a day as you want makes it difficult to determine when “work” activities end and personal activities begin. The division between work and home is blurred, which makes proving that your injury was work-related that much more complicated.
There is a “Personal Comfort Doctrine” that states that actions “relating to the employee’s personal comfort” do not interrupt regular work hours. Bathroom breaks, getting a glass of water, quick stretches, changing the printer’s ink carton, or leaving the room to grab a different headset are all part of normal working conditions. The same actions, however, are also part of everyday living.
Let’s say that your regular work-from-home duties are done typing at a computer. If the repetitive motion injuries your wrist, you will be covered by workers’ comp insurance. But if you like to type short stories in your free time, on the same computer at home, it’s much more difficult to determine whether the wrist injury was caused primarily by work or by personal activities. As such, it’s very important to provide as much information about the injury and surrounding circumstances as possible.
In the event your workers’ comp claim requires a QME evaluation, be sure to bring ALL your medical records and documents, and have everything written down ahead of time. You need to be able to explain exactly what you were doing when you became injured, where the injury took place, and the nature of the injury sustained. Either write down everything in advance with pen and paper, type it on a computer, or ask a friend to dictate.
Unfortunately, the burden of proof is on you. It’s up to you to file a Workers’ Compensation Claim Form, also known as a DWC-1. (Simply telling your employer and colleagues of the injury is not enough!) And it’s up to you to compile the required evidence to prove a work-related injury. But you don’t need to go through this alone.
Whether you’ve already filed a claim or are unsure of what to do, don’t hesitate to contact a workers’ compensation attorney. A good lawyer will be able to strengthen your claim, answer any question, and advise the best course of action. Because legal background or no, any employee suffering from a workplace (or work-from-home) injury deserves compensation.
Barsoum Law is here to support you and protect your interests throughout the entire workers’ comp process. We offer a personal focus and individualized care that large corporate firms do not. And our multilingual, multicultural team is dedicated to making sure you obtain the compensation you deserve.
If you have suffered a work-related injury or illness, Barsoum Law can and will help. We have represented thousands of injured workers throughout California the past 25 years. Contact us today at 877-299-1555 or firstname.lastname@example.org schedule a consultation with a member of our team.