Maybe. The answer will depend heavily on the facts of your case, and your employer will likely dispute coverage.
Let’s start with a review of basic Washington workers’ compensation law. To collect workers’ compensation, you must be injured while in the “course of employment.” “Acting in the course of employment” means the worker acting at his or her employer’s direction or in the furtherance of his or her employer’s business . . . .” RCW 51.08.013(1). If you are working from home, the question will be whether you were furthering your employer’s business interests at the time of the accident. For example, if you are on a conference call and fall while walking to get a work document in another room, you can make a good case that you were furthering your employer’s business interests. But what if you were injured on the way to the kitchen to make a sandwich? Now the “personal comfort doctrine” likely becomes relevant.
The general rule concerning the personal comfort doctrine is:
Employees who, within the time and space limits of their employment, engage in: acts which minister to personal comfort do not thereby leave the course of employment, unless the extent of the departure is so great that an intent to abandon the job temporarily may be inferred, or unless, in some jurisdictions, the method chosen is so unusual and unreasonable that the conduct cannot be considered an incident of the employment.
In re Janise Dial, BIIA Dec., 01 17217 (2003) citing L. Larson, Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law § 21 (2002).
Under the personal comfort doctrine, if you are at the office and are injured in the breakroom while at lunch, you are still covered by workers’ compensation, even though you are engaging in an activity of personal comfort. The basic theory is that humans must eat to perform, so even the act of eating lunch tangentially helps your employer. But notice the definition above applies to employees who are within the “space limits of their employment,” meaning at the office, job site, etc. Are you in the “space limits” of your employment if you are at home? You may be if you are furthering your employer’s business interests, which takes us back to the beginning of the analysis.
With the increased use of technology, the lines between home and office are becoming increasingly blurred. As a result, disputes between employers and workers injured outside the traditional office setting will likely increase, and injured workers will need experienced lawyers to get the benefits they deserve.
If you have questions about this blog, email Marlena@PNWStrategicLegalSolutions.com.