Can Remote Workers Get Workers’ Compensation Benefits for On-the-Job Injuries?
Long before anyone had heard of COVID-19, the shift from working in the office to working from home was well underway. More and more American workers spent at least part of their time doing their jobs in their pajamas and rec rooms, swapping a commute down the highway for one down the stairs. In the wake of the pandemic, remote work is, even more, a way of life for millions of employees.
But as comfortable and convenient as working from home is, it doesn’t mean remote workers are immune from on-the-job injuries. Just as you could slip and fall in an office breakroom when grabbing a cup of coffee, you could do so in your kitchen. You could suffer a repetitive stress injury from typing all day on a keyboard just as easily at home as you could in an office cubicle. And if you suffer an injury while working at home, you are likely just as eligible for workers’ compensation benefits as you would be if you were hurt in the office.
On-the-Job Doesn’t Just Mean In the Office
Like all other states, North Carolina’s workers’ compensation system is designed to quickly get injured workers money and benefits without having to file a personal injury lawsuit or prove the employer was at fault for their injuries.
The North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (NCWCA) provides that all businesses with three or more employees must carry workers’ compensation insurance to pay for such benefits.
Workers’ compensation benefits are only available for work-related injuries. Specifically, an injury or illness must “arise out of and in the course of the employment” for an employee to be entitled to benefits. Though they sound similar, “arising out of” and “in the course of” employment are two different things, both of which must be the case for a successful workers’ compensation claim. “Arising out of” refers to what the employee was doing during the injury, and “in the course of” refers to the time, place, and circumstances when the injury happened.
Neither requirement puts limitations on where an accident occurs for it to be compensable. That means injuries suffered in the home while on the job can be the basis for receiving workers’ comp benefits. While an employer has a legal duty to provide a safe work environment for employees, an employer’s lack of control over the conditions of an employee’s home-based workplace is irrelevant when looking at eligibility for benefits.
The Burden of Proof Is on the Employee to Prove Injury Was Work-Related
When making a workers’ compensation claim, the injured worker must prove the accident and injury arose out of and in the course of their employment. When an injury-causing accident occurs in an office or other workplace, it usually isn’t difficult to meet that burden. If you tripped over an extension cord while walking down an office hallway, even if you were on your way to the bathroom or a lunch break, you were clearly at work and in the midst of doing your job when the accident occurred.
But when your workplace and your home are the same, and when your time on the clock may blend in with time off the clock, proving an injury suffered at home was work-related isn’t as easy.
If you fell down the stairs at 11:00 A.M. on a Tuesday while walking between your home workspace and kitchen to get a glass of water to bring back to your desk, that qualifies as “arising out of” and “in the course of” your employment, just as it would if you did the same in an office building. However, if you woke up during the night to grab that glass of water, your fall and any injuries would likely not qualify you for workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers Comp Only Covers Employees – Not Independent Contractors
North Carolina employers only need to provide workers’ compensation insurance for employees. They have no such obligation to independent contractors. Many companies label workers as independent contractors to avoid paying for workers comp or other benefits. But just because an employer calls a worker an independent contractor doesn’t make them one.
It isn’t up to the employer to decide who is an independent contractor and who is an employee. The law makes that determination. If the employer exercises significant control over the worker and their activities, if the worker in all other respects acts and is treated as an employee, they should be classified as an employee and be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits regardless of what the employer claims.
Challenging a business’ misclassification of an employee as an independent contractor to avoid workers’ compensation obligations is one of many reasons it is important to meet with an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible after a work accident.
What to Do After an On-the-Job Injury at Home
Because it’s challenging to prove a home workplace injury is work-related, it is critical to take steps immediately after an accident to document the circumstances and report your injuries to your employer.
Write down what, where, and when the accident happened. Note what you were doing before the accident, and take pictures of the scene where it occurred. Then request the appropriate workers’ compensation claims forms from your employer and complete and return them. If you receive pushback from your employer or their workers’ compensation insurer challenging your claim, contact a workers compensation lawyer immediately.
Ricci Law Firm: Experienced and Committed North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers
If you are a remote worker and suffer an injury while doing your job from home, you are protected under North Carolina’s workers’ compensation law. But employers can and often do challenge an employee’s right to benefits, either questioning whether the injury was genuinely work-related or doubting the nature and extent of the injury.
At Ricci Law Firm, we stand up for North Carolina workers when their employer stands in the way of their benefits. If you have questions or need assistance with a workers’ compensation claim, we welcome the opportunity to help. Contact Ricci Law Firm today to arrange for a free consultation to discuss your claim.