Millions of people are now working from home in order to fulfill social distancing guidelines put in place in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Whether you’re enjoying the lack of a commute or finding it difficult to concentrate while working from home, one question that we seem to be hearing more frequently is whether or not you’re covered by workers’ compensation in the result of an injury while working from home.
We touched on that subject in a previous blog, but we wanted to revisit the idea and touch on a subject we didn’t cover in our first post – the personal comfort doctrine. This is an important exception to standard work comp laws that generally do not allow telecommuters to file for compensation for acute injuries suffered at their home. Here’s a closer look at the personal comfort doctrine as it pertains to remote workers.
The Personal Comfort Doctrine
The personal comfort doctrine establishes that employees are allowed to engage in certain activities that provide personal comfort while at their job, and these personal activities are still considered a part of their job duties, meaning they may allow the employee to seek compensation if the action results in injury. Some personal activities that are very common through an average workday include:
- Going to the bathroom
- Eating lunch in the cafeteria
- Grabbing a coffee in the breakroom
- Taking a smoke break
For example, although it is not directly related to your work duties, if you walk into the break room and slip on a wet spot and hurt your back in a fall, you may be eligible for compensation. Although you weren’t performing specific duties at the time of your injury, if not for your employment at the company, you would not have suffered the injury. This line of thinking will be challenged by the insurance company because you can’t attempt to draw a “Butterfly Effect” style narrative that relates any injury to your employer, but as long as there exists a causal connection between your injury and employment, a good law firm will be able to get you compensation.
So with millions of Americans now setting up a home office, we’re sure to hear about an influx of injury claims resulting from injuries sustained during personal comforts. We recently heard about a case in Minnesota where a man working on a month-end report from his home office took a break to get a coffee and fractured a spinal vertebra while tripping down the stairs on the way to the kitchen. He filed for workers’ compensation and won a claim, because the action of getting a coffee isn’t dissimilar to a personal comfort activity that you may have performed in office. However, had the man slipped while letting his dog outside during the same break, he likely wouldn’t be eligible for compensation.
These cases will not be black and white, and it will often come down to your version of events versus the insurance company’s lawyers. Make sure you have a lawyer by your side to help prove your case in these uncertain times. We are familiar with these types of cases and know how to strengthen your claim. For more information, reach out to the team at Hey Workers today.