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How Workers’ Compensation Coverage Affects Remote Employees

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Mostly written by Acadia Insurance

Long before computers and the Internet became staples of workplaces across the United States, workers’ compensation laws provided employees with a financial safety net to help them cover the costs associated with sustaining one or more injuries in the workplace. In most states, workers’ compensation statutes require employers to compensate employees whenever they get hurt or develop an illness in the course and scope of employment. For example, a construction worker who falls from a scaffold while at a construction site might qualify to receive indemnity benefits to offset lost wages as well as compensation to pay for treating one or more injuries. Most employers satisfy this obligation by purchasing workers’ compensation insurance.

What the drafters of workers’ compensation laws may have never envisioned is how dramatically different the workplace has become since the first workers’ compensation law hit the books as far back as the early 1900s. Due to changes in society and technologies over time, the common workplace for many employees is vastly different today and continues to evolve.

Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a monumental shift in the workplace paradigm, as a record number of employees had no choice but to work from home. Even after the pandemic abated, many employees have chosen to continue working from home full-time or have adopted what employment experts call a hybrid workplace model in which employees work from home on a part-time basis, while fulfilling the rest of their professional responsibilities in the more traditional workplace.

Because of the remote workplace model, employers face a unique dilemma concerning the implementation of workers’ compensation coverage. The primary question concerning workers’
compensation is do employees receive insurance coverage for illnesses contracted or injuries sustained while working at home?

The answer is much more complicated than simply stating yes or no.

Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Remote Employees?

The short answer to the question, “Does workers’ compensation cover remote employees” is yes, most workers’ compensation laws apply equally to remote workers. An injury sustained while working from home that typically receives coverage in a standard workplace would likewise be eligible for workers’ comp coverage. When it comes to defining workers’ compensation coverage, the cause of the injury sustained (i.e. was it work-related) matters more than where an employee sustained the injury.

However, sustaining an injury while working from home does not automatically qualify an employee to receive workers’ compensation insurance coverage. The litmus test to determine workers’ comp eligibility is to determine whether one would have sustained an injury under the same circumstances while working at the office or on a job site.

Let’s look at two examples of an employee sustaining an injury in a remote workplace. For example, number one, an employee sustains a knee injury as the result of tripping over the family dog while at home. Receiving workers’ compensation coverage for tripping over the family dog is unlikely, because the employee cannot assert the same scenario would unfold in the standard workplace. On the other hand, a worker who develops the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) while working remotely has a stronger case to receive workers’ compensation benefits, because the worker could have developed the same symptoms under the same conditions at the standard workplace.

How Do I Receive Workers’ Compensation Coverage as a Remote Employee?

The process for applying for workers’ compensation insurance coverage is the same for remote workers as it is for employees who get hurt in a standard workplace.

First, an employee should obtain any needed medical care to diagnose and treat the injury or injuries.

The second step for remote employees seeking workers’ compensation coverage involves notifying their employer about the workplace incident that caused one or more injuries. If a worker gets hurt in a standard workplace, informing their employer is easy since all they must do is notify the on-site manager. On the other hand, notifying the employer about a remote workplace incident that caused an injury typically requires sending some type of message via text, phone, or email. Accordingly, employees should be reminded to promptly notify the employer of any injury occurring outside of the standard workplace that could be covered by workers’ compensation benefits.

Third, the worker should complete and submit a workers’ compensation claim form, which is often provided to the employer by their workers’ compensation carrier. The employer’s insurance company will then initiate an investigation into the remote workplace incident that caused the injury or injuries. After completing a detailed investigation, the insurance company will issue its determination on the worker’s eligibility to receive compensation. If there is a dispute on whether the claim is covered, then the claim will typically be reviewed and ruled on by the state government agency that oversees workers’ compensation claims in your state.

You can count on Brownell Insurance Center to be there to be sure you and your business is properly covered. Please give us a call if you have any unique workers’ compensation situations, we are glad to help you.

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