Investigating Remote Work Injuries

Hoping to keep workers safe and minimize the spread of Coronavirus, many North Carolina employers are allowing – or even requiring – employees to work remotely from home. While working from home may reduce the risk of virus exposure, the unusual work environment may lead to work-related injuries at home.

Step 1: Valid injury claim?

If you receive a workers’ compensation claim for an at-home injury, first evaluate it like any other claim – determine whether anything unusual or unexpected occurred (for an accident claim) and whether the accident caused or aggravated the medical condition. 

For an injury to be compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act, the claimant must prove that: (1) the injury was caused by an accident; (2) the injury arose out of the claimant’s employment; and (3) the injury was sustained in the course of that employment. Notice there is no requirement that the injury occur on the worksite, in the office, or at the plant? If the alleged accident qualifies as an “accident” or “incident” and allegedly happened during remote work, then move to step 2.

Step 2: In the course and scope of employment?

Next, determine whether the worker got hurt “in the course and scope of employment.” This step is especially tricky when investigating at-home workers. Was the worker on the clock and legitimately working for the employer at the time of injury? Doing what work, and at what time, exactly? If the injury occurred outside normal working hours, or while the employee was engaged in some personal errand or distraction (picking up a child, folding laundry between emails, brewing coffee during break), then you may have a valid reason to deny the claim. Carefully assessing witness credibility is key to this step of the investigation.    

Step 3: Arise out of employment?

Not only must the accident occur during the course and scope of employment, but it also must arise out of employment. The pertinent inquiry here is whether the activity giving rise to the accident provided some benefit to the employer. For example, if a worker sustains an injury at 2:32 pm while sitting at his desk typing, the accident may meet the “course and scope” test but would not “arise out of employment” if the injury arose when his child shot him in the eye with a Nerf bullet; there was no benefit to the employer. However, if a worker slips off a rolling chair during a work-related phone call, the accident may be compensable because the activity (sitting in the chair to take a call) arose from the employment.  

As office workers transition to at-home work to avoid Coronavirus exposure, workers’ compensation claims alleging at-home accidents may increase. These cases are complicated and often depend on highly specific facts. Contact the workers’ compensation attorneys at Anders Newton at 919-516-8400 if you have questions about remote work injuries.

Disclaimer: The information on the blog is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Cases referenced do not represent the law firm’s entire record. Each case is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. The outcome of a particular case cannot be based on past results.

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