More and more employers are permitting employees to work from home, for some or all of their work week. This raises the potential of home-related injuries being claimed by injured employees under the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act, even though the employer has no control over the home-based office space of the employee. What are the rules when work from home employees get hurt at home?
A “work from home” workers’ compensation claims adjuster for Sedgwick CMS and The Hartford tripped over her dog while reaching for a coffee cup in her kitchen, injured herself and then filed a work comp claim. On the day of the accident, she had been working for 3 hours by the time she fell over one of her two dogs. She sustained knee, hip and shoulder injuries. Her employer permitted her to work from home, but denied her workers’ compensation claim because it asserted that the injury did not arise out of the employment. At first, the employee won her claim.
The Florida workers’ comp law states that an employer is responsible for accidents that “arising out of work performed in the course and scope of employment.” (440.02, Definitions) Did her injury arise out of the employment? A compensable accident occurs in the scope of employment when it occurs in the period of employment, at a place where the employee would reasonably be and while she fulfills her duties. In her case. the injury occurred during working hours, in her home where she would reasonably be and her coffee break was a permissible comfort break. So was it compensable?
No, because the Florida Legislature intended the term “arising out of employment” to requires occupational causation. The Court reversed the decision of the JCC and stated that the risks that caused the claimant’s accident and injuries must be work-related. So, an injury is only compensable if the employment necessarily exposed a claimant to conditions that would substantially contribute to the risk of injury and to which the claimant would not normally be exposed during his nonemployment life. The employment must, in some way, contribute an increased risk of injury peculiar to that employment – otherwise, it did not arise out of employment.
The injuries must flow from the risks related to an employee’s work. A claim was denied for a person that fainted at work because the claimant could not demonstrate that her physical surroundings on the job in any way contributed to the risk or injury any more than they would have in a non-employment life. With no “occupational causation”, a claim can not succeed.
In this case, the normal features of the claimant’s “non-employment life” (sleeping dog, kitchen, reaching for a coffee cup) caused the accident and injuries. Similar at home injuries, such as a light fixture falling, tripping over kid’s toys, poor lighting, slippery floor tile – would all seem to be non-compensable claims. Florida courts have consistently ruled that workers’ compensation does not allow for the recovery for all injuries occurring in the workplace. Specifically, Florida does not allow recovery for injuries that arise out of conditions personal to the claimant, which are not caused or aggravated by the work. Therefore, if an employee is injured while working at home, make sure your accident investigation determines the cause of the injury so it can be properly reported to the insurance carrier.