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Are work-at-home injuries compensable?

If you sustain an injury at home, you may wonder what, if any, rights you have to compensation. Can you still recover workers’ compensation, even if your accident occurs in an environment over which your employer has little to no control?

With one-third of the American population now working from home, many individuals have these same concerns. Because there is a growing belief that telecommuting will be the new norm, it is important that lawmakers, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other relevant parties address these concerns and establish a set process for dealing with them. For now, employers and their workers must use OSHA recommendations and rulings to guide them.

OSHA’s General Duty Clause

Per the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, employers, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, have a duty to provide each employee with a work environment that is free of known dangers that cause or are likely to cause serious physical harm to or death of an employee. OSHA does not specify in which locations this responsibility applies. However, it does provide guidance that seems to negate employees’ responsibilities for at-home work activities, which may include filing, reading, writing, computer research and the like. For instance, OSHA states the following:

  • It will not inspect employees’ home offices.
  • It will not hold employers accountable for employees’ home office conditions.
  • It does not require employers to assess the home offices of employees.

However, if OSHA hears a complaint that a home office environment contains a health or safety hazard that both violates an OSH Act standard and creates an imminent danger, it may order an investigation. If it does, it will limit its investigation to the employee’s work activities. It will not investigate the whole house or its furnishings. Moreover, though OSHA does not hold employers accountable for most at-home work environments, it does make an exception for environments that contain employer-provided materials, work processes or equipment that create hazards.

Record-keeping requirements

Based on the above information, you may assume that your employer has no responsibility to cover at-home work injuries. However, the OSH Act does state that employers who have an existing responsibility to do so must continue to keep records of work-related injuries or illnesses, even if said injuries or illnesses occur in a worker’s home office. If you acquire an illness or injury that meets OSHA’s recording criteria, it is, according to the law, compensable.

That said, to maintain compensability status, your injury or illness must meet two basic requirements. The first is that you must have sustained it while performing paid work. The second is that your injury must have a relation to the performance of your work duties and not your actual home environment.

 

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