Most people are aware of the general concept behind Wisconsin’s workers’ compensation law. It provides injured workers with the opportunity to receive support payments to help them recover from their injury, pay medical bills and meet their needs until they recover from their injury and can return to work.
But what if you didn’t suffer your injury in the office or on a worksite, but in your home office while working remotely? Could you still qualify for workers’ compensation benefits?
The requirements for workers’ compensation
Wisconsin’s workers’ compensation statute sets forth the requirements that must be met before an injured worker can qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. Among other requirements, a work injury must arise out of and be in the course and scope of employment. In other words, your injury will qualify for workers’ compensation if it was the result of your normal work environment, or if you sustained it while performing your work duties. It cannot be self-inflicted and it cannot be principally the result of activity you did outside of work hours.
When a worker lifts a box at work and feels a pain in their back, this requirement is easily met. However, when a similar injury happens while working at home, the issues are not as clear.
A host of “course of employment” issues accompany the increased prevalence of remote work at home, enhanced significantly by computer and video technology. Many employment relationships involve employees working frequently or exclusively from their homes, whether by employee request, by discussion with the employer, or by employer directive for remote work (for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic). Myriad issues can occur at home, such as whether an accident in the employee’s kitchen or bathroom fit into the course of employment (i.e., “personal comfort”) that routinely applies to employer premises?
Work (comp) from home rules
While each set of facts is unique, the default rule favors compensability of at-home injuries when remote work is required, or employer authorized. The statute extends the employer premises to home premises by “includ[ing] the premises of any other person on whose premises the employee performs services.” Further criteria to look at is: 1) the quantity and regularity of remote work; 2) the continuing presence of work equipment at home; and 3) the special circumstances of the particular employment that make it necessary and not merely convenient to work at home.
In situations where the employee works consistently from home or is directed by the employer to work remotely, the three factors generally are met, resulting in a situation where every risk of home becomes a risk of the workplace. However, if a worker who takes work home, arguably for just convenience’s sake, compensability becomes more ambiguous.
Also, the “personal comfort” doctrine applies to remote work, likely making injuries on steps, in bathrooms, or in kitchens compensable
Types of injuries that qualify
You have the option of seeking workers’ compensation benefits for any work-related injury that interferes with your ability to perform your essential work functions. The purpose of workers’ compensation is to take care of you if you have a condition that won’t allow you to work for a time.
This means that, if you’re working from home, you might be able to bring a workers’ compensation claim for things such as a back injury or repetitive stress injury– as long as you received those injuries from your work duties, not from your personal life.
Even though you don’t work on a construction site or in a factory, there are still very real opportunities to injure yourself even from your home office. Fortunately, the Wisconsin workers’ compensation program is there to take care of you if that ever happens.