Companies faced a historic shift in business within the past year due to COVID-19. While some organizations allowed employees to work remotely, others faced new challenges head-on and established innovative changes into their day-to-day operations.
While this industry trend is changing the way individuals work and companies conduct business, it is the responsibility of the employer to communicate and enforce the proper safety protocols during these workspace alterations. Failure to do so, can consequently result in work related injuries and potentially increase the business’ Workers’ Compensation insurance premiums.
Workers’ Compensation for Remote Employees
As a result of the pandemic, many employers adapted by permitting their employees to work remotely. According to the Statista Research Department, 44 percent of companies allow their workers to work remotely full time, compared to 17 percent in previous years.
Workplace injuries can be a frustrating and complicated process. With more individuals working remote, are these employees eligible to receive Workers’ Compensations benefits? The short answer is yes. Any injury or illness incident during employment may be compensable under Workers’ Compensation increasing the potential liability for employers. One of the biggest misconceptions about remote working is that work-related injuries are treated differently, when from an employer’s perspective, it is the same. As stated in Section 21 of the New York Workers’ Compensation Law, the criteria of eligibility for Workers’ Comp is all about demonstrating proof the injury or condition occurred arising out of and in the course of their employment. While there are exceptions about compensability, employees are covered by this law.
There are situations where it may be difficult to determine if the injury is work-related. In these ‘grey areas,’ employers must decide if the injury-related activity is purely personal or recognized as a consequence of their employment responsibilities. An example of this is if an employee working remotely gets up to get a glass of water and trips in the kitchen. Although the injury happened in the remote workplace, employers can rebut presumptions of compensability depending on the surrounding facts. Was the activity itself during a break? Was the remote employee distracted with a purely personal matter? There are many variables for determining compensability for remote workers demonstrating a nexus between the injury and the work activity.
COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation Coverage
Protecting employees at work during and post-pandemic is an ongoing challenge every organization is facing. Those workers on the front line of possibly contracting the virus due to the natural consequences of their job (healthcare workers, first responders, grocery store workers, etc.), may be covered by the workers’ compensation statute. Similarly, to the criteria of a work-related injury, essential workers in high-risk employment may contract a work-related illness. What if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 and spreads the virus throughout the office? If the employee can provide factual data they contracted the virus as a result of and arising out of their employment from their designated work location and/or due to their employment responsibilities, they may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits. You may ask – what if the employee didn’t share they weren’t feeling well? Does liability still fall to the employer? Unfortunately, yes. It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe and comfortable work environment for their employees, regardless of their knowledge to the potential hazard.
Steps Filing A Work-Related Injury
When there is an injury in the workplace, immediate action is needed to ensure a fair and just response. First, the injured worker should seek help, first aid or other necessary medical treatment if necessary. Next, inform and notify a supervisor of the accident by filling out the necessary documents to open a Workers’ Compensation claim. Following the employer’s policies for reporting and responding to onsite accidents is crucial in receiving benefits and starting the process correctly. If the employer does not have an established Workers’ Compensation protocol, it is recommended for employees to submit a written document stating accurate information of the injury and how it occurred or developed to their supervisor and the human resources department. This step should be executed no later than 30 days after injury or occupational condition/exposure. Following, the employee should follow up with a medical provider to receive a treatment plan and medical evidence providing the history along with any disability related to the injury and/or work restrictions.
Protecting the Safety of Workers
Although we cannot predict when an injury at work will occur, collectively, organizations can take proactive action in ensuring workplace safety and individual accountability. It is recommended to update the telecommuting policies and employees’ job descriptions to clearly define responsibilities and work activities. Encouraging individuals to have an appropriate work environment (clean, ergonomic workstation, etc.) and to have their cameras on during virtual meetings is essential to help promote remote work safety. Being attentive and conscientious about employee work environments is the best way to mitigate risks and discover potential hazards that can lead to workplace injuries. Overall, strengthening the lines of communications amongst employees can establish camaraderie and attribute to the success of the organization.
In the unfortunate incident you do get injured at work – in office or remotely, working with an experienced firm like Connors & Ferris is critical to successfully navigate the benefits you may be eligible to receive. With offices in Rochester, Buffalo, and New York City, the team at Connors & Ferris is unmatched in its dedication to helping and advocating for injured workers. As a leading firm in representing injured workers throughout New York State, our team is here to support you and your family through these everchanging times. Do not hesitate to reach out if you have any needs or know of anyone who has a question about Workers’ Compensation, Social Security, or a motor vehicle accident. Our team is flexible to meet with individuals via phone, Facetime, or video. Call or text one of our offices to schedule a free consultation.