Work From Home and Telecommuting Accident and Injuries
More people are working from home than ever before. Some people have the luxury of a home office, and others are working from their kitchen table. But as technology progresses, many businesses are looking to reduce their overheard by having employees work from home. What happens if you trip and fall over a computer cord when you get up from your desk at home? What about if you slip and fall walking into your kitchen to get a cup of coffee? Florida’s workers compensation laws can require your employer to provide you with medical care and wage benefits if you are injured while working at home. The Fort Lauderdale remote workers accident attorneys at our firm will take the guesswork out of your worker’s compensation claim.
When is Your Work from Home Accident Covered by Florida’s Workers Compensation Laws?
For any work injury to be covered by Florida’s workers compensation laws, the accident and injury must “arise out of” your employment, and have occurred during the “course and scope” of your employment. “Arise out of” is defined in Florida Statutes §440.02(36) as requiring some connection between your accident and injury, and the duties you are performing for your work.
Many claims for injuries in remote workplaces could be denied unless a lawyer presents persuasive evidence to satisfy legal causation requirements. Consider the following:
- If an employee trips over a printer cable, they need to prove they were working on job duties at the time.
- If an employee’s chair collapses, the employer could claim the condition of the chair was under the employee’s control.
- If an employee develops orthopedic problems due to being hunched over the computer, the employer could argue that the injuries were caused by a hunched over position playing computer or video games.
- If an employee reports suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive stress disorder due to typing work material, the employer could argue that the employee did not follow ergonomic guidelines when setting up the workspace.
- If an employee trips and falls while getting a glass of water during a permissible work break, the employer could argue that the tripping hazard did not arise from work.
In fact, in one case decided not long ago by the Florida District Court of Appeal, the court overturned an earlier ruling in favor of paying benefits to a remote employee who was injured when she tripped over her dog while getting coffee. The court agreed that the injuries occurred in the course and scope of her employment because the injury occurred during work hours in a location where the remote employee could reasonably expect to be. However, the court found that the injuries did not arise out of her employment. Looking at prior cases, this court concluded that employment must somehow increase the risk of injury. Since the court found that the employee’s risk of tripping over her dog was no greater on a workday than it was on a weekend, that injury did not arise from her job duties, and therefore she was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Are Remote Workers Entitled to Compensation if You Are Injured While Taking a Short Break at Home?
Florida’s workers compensation laws include the “personal comfort doctrine”. The personal comfort doctrine provides workers compensation benefits to workers when they take a break for their personal comfort or health. The reason breaks can be covered by Florida’s workers compensation laws is your employer obtains a benefit by allowing you to go to the bathroom, get coffee, or just stand up and stretch your legs. The thought is that a happy and comfortable employee is a productive employee. What type of breaks are covered by the Personal Comfort Doctrine:
- Coffee breaks
- Bathroom breaks
- A temporary break to walk around and stretch your legs
- Lunch breaks
If you are injured while taking a break from your at-home job, you can be entitled to workers compensation as long as your break time is simply a rest period for yourself, and doesn’t become something like a personal errand, i.e. going to pick up groceries on your rest break.
What Employment Laws Apply to Telecommuting Workers at Home?
In addition to workers’ compensation laws, employees working from home are also covered by other employment laws. This includes the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which establishes rules for fair pay, and federal anti-discrimination laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Employees Deserve Fair Compensation for Their Time
Employees working from home often feel like they are obligated to respond to employers’ requests 24/7. However, while an employer can establish working hours that are outside a standard 9-5 day, they are supposed to allow for meals and reasonable rest breaks, just as they would if you were working in the office.
Moreover, if your employer expects you to work more than 40 hours in a standard workweek, they should pay overtime wages for time worked beyond those hours. Employers and employees alike often believe that overtime laws do not apply to those who work at a desk or are paid on an annual salary basis rather than an hourly basis.
However, the types of employees who are actually exempt from overtime requirements are very strictly defined. They are generally executives, professionals, or employees in specific fields such as remote sales or computer industries. Some administrative employees may not be entitled to overtime, but they must have a job where they exercise substantial discretion. You should also know that your job title is irrelevant. If you are working more than 40 hours per week and not receiving overtime pay, you should consult a remote workers accident attorney to determine whether you may be entitled to compensation including back pay.
Disabled Employees are Entitled to Reasonable Accommodations
The ADA requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with qualifying disabilities. This is generally defined to mean that employers must make changes to the work environment or in the method of operations to enable an individual with disabilities to have opportunities for employment equal to those without disabilities.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated that allowing an employee to work from home can be considered a type of reasonable accommodation. However, employers are not required to provide an accommodation that would pose an undue hardship. For example, in a job that typically requires face-to-face interaction, telecommuting would probably not be required as a reasonable accommodation.
When an employee works at home as a reasonable accommodation for a disability, the law is not clear about what equipment employers must provide. If the job requires specialized equipment that an employee could not reasonably be expected to purchase on their own, it could be argued that the employer should lend this equipment to the worker for home use. For instance, if all employees use the same type of computer in the office to access a proprietary network, the employer may need to supply the specific computer for the employee’s home use. However, if an employer conducts all business remotely, and all employees furnish their own computers and furniture, then providing this equipment would likely not be required as a reasonable accommodation.
Employees Working from Home Have the Right to Information and Reimbursement
Employees working remotely have the same rights as those in the office, and that includes the right to access information and receive reimbursement for some expenses. If you are working from home for the convenience of your employer who doesn’t want to pay for office space, then you may be entitled to reimbursement for the costs of setting up your office. You might also be eligible to receive compensation to cover the cost of running errands as part of your job or coming to the office to attend meetings.
Employees working at home also have the right to policy manuals and other critical information. When employers fail to provide information such as the continuation of health coverage notices required under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, a remote workers accident attorney could determine whether you are entitled to relief.
Establishing That Your Remote Work Contributed to the Injury
Proving causation is easier burden to meet when the employer controls the employee’s workplace conditions. However, many seemingly insignificant facts can take on tremendous importance when an employee is injured while working remotely. For that reason, injured employees should consider working with an experienced Fort Lauderdale remote workers’ compensation lawyer early on in the process so their legal advisor can assist with collecting and preserving evidence while it is most readily available.
Both employers and employees have obligations in workers’ comp cases, and these obligations do not change just because an employee is working from home or some other remote location. Therefore, employees need to report injuries to their employers as soon as possible. If an injury is severe, then emergency medical treatment is, of course, the first priority. But if possible, it is best to report the injury to the employer and then seek medical treatment from a physician approved by the employer.
Injured workers should take photos of the work area and the cause of the injury. If you suffer a work injury at home, shoot a variety of angles and closeup images as well as images that show the full context of the setting. Make notes about the incident while details are still fresh in your mind. Include details about what you were working on at the time of the injury, the time and location of the injury, and any other relevant information about the cause or severity of the injury or the work activity that led to it.
Your employer should report the claim once you have reported the injury. If the employer refuses, you can file a claim with the Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation. Our Fort Lauderdale workers’ compensation lawyer can assist or help follow up with a claim that is delayed or denied.
What Workers Compensation Benefits Can I Receive if I Telecommute?
Depending on the type and severity of your accident, you are entitled to receive medical care, lost wages, and a worker’s compensation settlement in certain cases. Attorneys handling Florida workers compensation claims can help guide you through the complicated and frustrating workers compensation claim process. If you are injured while telecommuting, you are entitled to:
- Medical care
- Lost wages
- MRI, X rays and other diagnostic testing
- Job retraining
- Accommodations at work to allow you to work light duty
- Settlement of your claim
Contact Fort Lauderdale Remote Worker Accident Lawyer Joseph Maus Today
If you need help asserting your legal rights after a work at home accident in the Fort Lauderdale area, we encourage you to get in touch. To schedule a free initial consultation with attorney Joseph Maus, call us at 855-999-5297 or request an appointment online today.