WI Worker’s Compensation Covers Remote Employees Working from Home

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, many employees throughout Wisconsin transitioned from a traditional office setting to working remotely from home for the first time. Since then, new questions have been raised by workers regarding which at-home injuries might be covered under the Worker’s Compensation Act.

The short answer is most at-home injuries suffered while in the course of your job duties are covered under the Worker’s Compensation Act. However, for a variety of reasons, worker’s compensation insurers are quick to deny at-home injury claims. Therefore, in order to avoid potential delays or denial, employees injured while working from home should promptly report the injury and thoroughly document the incident.

Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Fundamentals

Understanding the basic tenets of a Wisconsin worker’s compensation claim will help at-home employees understand their rights. There are five elements to a worker’s compensation claim in Wisconsin:

  1. The existence of an employer-employee relationship
  2. A physical or mental injury
  3. The injury occurred in the course of the worker’s employment
  4. The injury arose out of worker’s employment
  5. The injury was not self-inflicted.

Regardless of whether you are working on your employer’s premises, a traveling employee on the road or in a remote office, or working from home, if you meet the above-listed statutory criteria for a compensable claim under the Worker’s Compensation Act then you qualify for worker’s compensation benefits.

At-Home Worker’s Compensation Claims Face Increased Scrutiny

Injuries that occur while working from are likely to be subject to additional scrutiny by the employer’s worker’s compensation carrier. Since the Worker’s Compensation Act includes several ways for the insurer to avoid liability depending on the circumstances of an injury, approval or denial of benefits comes down to the specific facts of each case. As a result, employees must diligently report and document the facts of their case to maximize their chances of an approved claim.

How to Report Injuries When Working from Home

1.Notify Employer of Work Injury

Whether you slip on a child’s toy next to your desk and injure your ankle or fall down the stairs while on a work call, if you suffer an injury while on the clock or performing work duties from home, contact your employer *right away* to inform them of the details of the accident. Your employer should then inform their worker’s compensation insurer to initiate the claims process.

2. Seek Medical Help

Once the incident is reported to your employer, you should seek any medical treatment you feel is necessary at your nearest emergency room or urgent care depending on the severity of the injury, letting the healthcare provider know the name of your employer and that the injury happened while you were working so they can classify the claim under worker’s compensation.

3. Cooperate with Worker’s Compensation Insurer Requests

Depending on how quickly the claim is reported, the worker’s compensation carrier should contact you within several days to inform you that they are investigating the claim. You will likely need to answer the carrier’s questions and provide medical authorizations so they can order medical records related to the incident. Within a month you should receive notice from the worker’s compensation carrier regarding whether they have approved or denied benefits.

Anticipating and Rebutting Worker’s Compensation Defenses to At-Home Injuries

Defense #1: Lack of Evidence / Delayed Reporting

Should you be injured while working from home, a likely reason for denial from the worker’s compensation insurance carrier will be lack of evidence or delayed reporting.

Unlike an injury that happens on the employer’s premises, there is less of a chance of the injury being witnessed outside of someone who lives in your immediate household. In most cases, at-home injuries will likely go unwitnessed. This is exactly why reporting the injury to your employer immediately and seeking medical treatment shortly after the injury are so important. Immediate reporting and clear documentation of an injury at home with photos and/or doctor notes can make the difference between the insurer approving or denying your workers’ compensation claim.

Defense #2: Injury Occurred Outside Course of Employment / Deviation from Work Duties

Not all injuries that occur while working from home are covered under the Worker’s Compensation Act. Accordingly, another defense to expect from the insurer is that you were not in the “course of your employment” at the time of the injury.

An injury falls within the course of your employment if it occurs while “performing services growing out of and incidental to your employment.” Said differently, the injury while working from must be connected to you doing your job duties with a few key exceptions:

  1. The course of employment is not broken when you are taking lunch or other designated breaks agreed-upon by your employer.
  2. You are still in the course of your employment when taking short breaks to use the restroom, grabbing a drink or snack to bring back to your at-home workstation, or any other brief action taken for your “personal comfort.”

Regardless of whether you are on your employer’s premises or working from home, worker’s compensation benefits are not available if the injury results from an activity that falls outside of the course of your employment. You are not in the course of your employment if you get injured while deviating from your job duties. Given the mixing of personal and professional obligations when working from home, the most common “course of employment” defense to expect from the worker’s compensation carrier is the assertion that you were deviating from your job duties when the injury occurred.

In the broadest terms, a deviation from your employment is a willful abandonment of job duties to perform an act in furtherance of your own, non-work-related purpose. Each alleged deviation depends on the specific facts of each case.

In the context of working from home, some hypothetical deviations may include:

  • Leaving your desk to go play with your young child
  • Taking a short break to help your school-aged child with remote-learning
  • Getting intoxicated while still on the clock
  • Getting in a motor vehicle accident while running a personal errand

Workers’ Compensation Case Law for Employees Working from Home

Before the widescale transition to working from home during the COVID-19 era, there were several cases that recognized the compensability of at-home work injuries.

In a 1973 case, Black River Dairy Products, Inc. v.  Department of Industry, Labor, & Human Relations, a delivery driver whose office was 100 miles from home slipped and fell in his driveway as he was walking out to head to work. Benefits were awarded because he regularly did bookwork from home. In 2000, benefits were awarded to a nurse who was injured while working from home while caring for a sick child.

Overall, Wisconsin courts have given weight to whether the work from home arrangement was agreed-upon by the employer or necessary for the job in deciding to grant benefits – not just for the personal convenience of the employee. In the COVID-era, many employers have required their employees to work from home, which will tend to favor injured workers challenging a denial of benefits for an at-home injury.

Worker’s Compensation Denials Depend Heavily on Factual Context

Once again, whether the worker’s compensation insurer denies for lack of evidence, delayed reporting, or a claim that you were deviating, it is important to keep in mind that course of employment denials are highly fact intensive. No two cases will be the same, and if a deviation can be linked with the furtherance of your employer’s interests or your immediate personal comfort then the courts may still find you in the course of your employment.

Call Hawks Quindel’s Experienced Worker’s Compensation Employees

If you were injured while working from home and your worker’s compensation claim was denied or went unreported, contact Hawks Quindel’s experienced worker’s compensation attorneys for a free evaluation of your claim.

Brandon Jubelirer
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