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Telecommuting: The Wave of Future Workers’ Compensation Claims

Written by: Dale Slemons, Esq.

A rapidly growing trend in today’s fast paced, technological era is telecommuting for more and more workers.   More employers are permitting their employees to work at home as a benefit to the worker and a cost saving measure for employers.  In today’s society, where more and more companies are becoming environmentally conscious about reducing their carbon footprint while saving on overhead expenses, telecommuting is becoming more appealing.  However, telecommuting does produce significant issues in workers compensation.

Employees can become injured on the job regardless of their work location.  However, the burden remains the employees with regard to proving that the claim is compensable.  To prove compensability, the employee must prove that the injury “arose out of and in the scope of” their employment.  The first element is met by their demonstrating that there is a casual connection between the type of work being done and the injury.  The second element “in the scope of” is met where the employee demonstrates that the injury occurred during the period of employment and at a place where they would reasonably be performing their work duties.

Much of the difficulty with telecommuting claims is that you have unwitnessed accidents and the only person that can testify about how the injury occurred is the employee/claimant.  It really comes down to the claimant’s word about how an accident happened.  Georgia law allows workers compensation for comfort deviations such as getting a drink or going to the bathroom; however, unrelated or purely personal reasons are not covered under the Workers Compensation Act, at least for now.  One may assume that someone working at home will, sometime during the day, deviate from their job duties and perform a personal task like walking their dog, doing laundry or walking outside to check their mail.  These should not be compensable, but again you are relying on the credibility of the claimant.

Some jurisdictions are now considering telecommuter’s homes a place of employment.  This brings into question what happens when the employee leaves one place of employment (their home) traveling to a second place of employment (the original office).  While Georgia hasn’t ruled on this issue yet, several other jurisdictions have determined that an injury sustained during such travel would constitute a compensable claim.  This clearly increases the employer’s potential risk.

While there are many benefits, both to the employer and the employee, with telecommuting workers, there are additional factors and risks that must be considered when making the decision to allow employees to telecommute.  It is highly recommended that you 1) choose your telecommuting employees wisely, 2) institute written policies and procedures regarding timeframes for work location, work hours, etc.,  3) provide the employee with office equipment that allows you to monitor when they are working, such as cell phones and computers and 4) limit trips between offices as much as necessary.