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Injuries while telecommuting: What’s the law?

Here’s what businesses need to know about workers’ compensation and telecommuting.

posted April 16, 2020

With so many workers telecommuting, Oregon businesses are wondering about workers' compensation coverage. When the home becomes the workplace, are injuries compensable?   

While there isn't extensive case law in Oregon relating to telecommuting injuries, the guidance we do have indicates injuries sustained while working at home are treated much the same as injuries occurring at work. In other words, once the home becomes the workplace, the hazards of the home connected to the performance of the job become workplace hazards. 

An Oregon case from 2011 provides some insight on how the board and court will look at these types of injuries. The Court of Appeals considered whether a worker who tripped over her dog while performing a work task was injured in the course and scope of her employment. The worker, a custom decorator, kept sale samples in her van to show potential customers. She used her home garage to store samples that would, from time to time, need to be changed out with other samples and materials that were kept in her van. The worker was instructed to keep her materials at her home. On a weekend day, she needed to remove “old” fabrics from her van and replace them with fabrics that were being stored in her garage for a new sale. While walking out the back door of her home to the garage to change the fabrics, claimant tripped over her own dog, lost her balance, and fell.

The court concluded that the home premises became the work premises when the claimant was working, and injuries suffered as a result of the risks of that environment, encountered while claimant was working, arose out of her employment. The court left the question of whether the injury occurred “in the course of” employment for the board's determination. The board concluded that it did, because she was performing the task during her work hours and was in a place she reasonably could be expected to be at the time.

Is it in the course and scope?

In the event of an injury while telecommuting, there are a variety of factors that will be relevant in determining whether an injury is in the course and scope of the worker's employment, including:

  • Was the worker performing a work-related task or something reasonably incidental to work at the time of the injury?
  • Did the injury occur while on a break or during a lunch hour?
  • Did the injury occur while the worker was engaged in a personal comfort activity?
  • Did the injury occur on or off the home premises?  

Telecommuting policy tips

Many workplaces have telecommuting policies. Here are some things to consider adding to your policy:

  • Require the worker to designate part of the premises as a home office
  • Require that the worker follow the employer's policy regarding authorized work hours
  • Suggest ideas for implementing ergonomic workstations (more information can be found at saif.com/ergo)

These policies are helpful to making the work-at-home experience safe and effective for both employers and workers.  

From saif.com

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