The number of employees who work some or all of their time from a home office is not new, but is growing rapidly. Telecommunications have made such arrangements highly advantageous to both the employer and the employee but create an entirely new set of work comp problems.
The vast majority of employees who could perform much of their duties from home are in executive or specialized clerical capacities. Publishing houses have long had proofreaders and editors who do their best work from a home setting, often late at night or early in the morning. As long as contacts with customers or co-workers is minimal a home setting carries no great disadvantages.
Workers’ compensation problems, however, are insidious. First, only the employee and members of the immediate family are likely to be witnesses, which raises a host of problems in defending suspicious claims. Second, although a specific room may be designated as the “office” an accident occurring virtually anywhere could be considered covered.
Work files are not necessarily stored in a small office room. The attic, or the basement, are also appropriate. A person tripping anywhere in the home just might be, and certainly will be during testimony, going to or from the “office” to or from the file storage area.
Accidents outside the home also are easily linked to work activity. The post office is the weak link, since any trip during most days could be said to be going to or from the post office with a work related letter, even if the rest of the trip is for groceries or mall shopping.
New York compensation lawyers recognized this long ago and the prudent always had a box of files in their cars to make every trip in some way work related.
Travel to and from a business meeting, if it originates from a home office, is “door to door” work related. The usual exclusions for travel to a business address do not apply to “outside” workers, which a worker is considered when the home is often the site of work.
The advantages of telecommuting appear to outweigh the workers’ comp disadvantages. Reducing co-worker contacts virtually eliminates “stress” claims, almost always the result of personality friction. Work from home greatly increases the time available for personal errands and recreation by eliminating the time and cost of commuting – a most significant advantage in a megalopolis setting – and therefore makes for a happy workforce.
A major disadvantage, which employers should anticipate, is the tendency for carrier defense counsel to litigate every claim where the injury has any chance of being described as “unwitnessed” or part of a “personal” activity.
Author: Attorney Theodore Ronca is a practicing lawyer from Aquebogue, NY. He is a frequent writer and speaker, and has represented employers in the areas of workers’ compensation, Social Security disability, employee disability plans and subrogation for over 30 years. Attorney Ronca can be reached at 631-722-2100.
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