Remote work was already on the rise in Philadelphia and nationwide before the COVID-19 pandemic, and shelter-in-place orders and concern about transmission only accelerated that trend. Now, numerous workers are working partially or fully from home, and while this is certainly a win for flexibility, it also raises questions about the workers' compensation system.
The short answer is yes, you can get workers' compensation for injuries sustained while working from home. However, proving that you were on the job when the injury happened can be difficult, depending on the circumstances.
Workers' compensation protects the worker, not the workplace
The Pennsylvania workers' compensation system has always been location-agnostic. You are protected by workers' comp whenever you're on the job, not just when you're on your employer's premises. For instance, this is how workers' compensation protects traveling employees like delivery drivers and visiting nurses. It also means employees are protected while at off-site meetings, running errands for employers, and during any other work activities that take place off-site.
If you work from home, your home is no different from any other location where you perform work activities. You're still on the job, and any injuries you sustain while on duty are still covered by workers' comp. The problem is that the line between "on duty" and "off duty" can be blurred for a remote worker, so your employer (and the workers' compensation insurance company) may have grounds to dispute whether you were on the job at the moment the injury occurred.
The "acting in furtherance" and "personal comfort" doctrines
The Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act states that benefits are to be paid to employees who are injured while "acting in furtherance of the employer's interests." Essentially, this means that if you're actively doing your job at the time of the injury, you're entitled to workers' compensation. For instance, if you received a work-related phone call and tripped while walking to the phone to take the call, that should be a compensable injury. If you received a delivery of work materials and were injured while carrying those materials inside your house, that too should be a compensable injury.
Pennsylvania courts have also long held that brief deviations from work duties intended to administer to an employee's "personal comfort" are still covered by workers' compensation. For example, if you were hurt while going to the bathroom or getting a glass of water during your workday, that injury should still be compensable. The law recognizes that workers are human beings who have basic needs, and fulfilling those personal comfort needs is required for the employee to do their job effectively, thus satisfying the basic "acting in furtherance" principle.
However, the "personal comfort" doctrine only goes so far. If you were injured while performing a task that was well outside your work duties and not in furtherance of your employer's interests, your injuries may not be compensable. For example, if you were hurt while throwing in a load of laundry or getting your personal mail during your workday, that may not be covered by workers' compensation.
What to do if you're injured while working from home
As with any work injury, you need to report the injury to your supervisor or someone else in charge at your employer as soon as possible. In a remote work situation, you may need to call your manager on the phone to make that initial notification, but you should send an email or other written communication as well, to make sure you have it in writing. (If you use your employer's communication systems to do this, BCC or forward it to your personal email as well so that you have a record they don't control.)
Next, get prompt medical attention. In Pennsylvania, you generally need to go to a provider on your employer's pre-approved list for the first 90 days after an injury. Tell the doctor who sees you that you were hurt at work, and be sure to describe all your symptoms in detail. This not only protects your health but also creates a record of your injuries to support your claim.
Then, contact us. Getting workers' comp for injuries sustained while working at home is an often contentious process, and you don't want to go into that process alone. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can advise you of your options and protect your legal rights at every stage in the process. Schedule your free consultation with the Law Offices of Richard A. Jaffe, LLC today.