Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses throughout the world have had to adapt to remote work models. This has naturally changed their day-to-day operations in various ways.
For example, if you own a business in Florida, where you’re typically required to provide your employees with access to workers’ compensation benefits, you may wonder how telecommuting impacts your duties as an employer. This general overview will cover some of the essential points you should be familiar with.
However, it’s important to conduct additional research as well if you feel you still don’t fully understand the topic. While adjusting to the pandemic and a new remote work model as a Florida business owner may be difficult, you still need to ensure you’re adhering to the relevant laws in regard to workers’ compensation.
An employee’s responsibility
Generally, workers’ compensation insurance in Florida compensates employees for their medical bills, lost wages, and potentially other related losses incurred as a result of on-the-job accidents. Thus, to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, an employee must prove that an accident they were involved in was genuinely work-related.
For example, perhaps an employee’s work duties involve driving to various work sites. If they’re involved in a car accident when driving to a site, they may be eligible for workers’ comp. However, if they’re injured in an accident that occurred when they were driving to a restaurant on their lunch break, because they weren’t driving for work at the time, their claim for workers’ compensation benefits would likely be denied.
The same essential policies apply when remote or home-based employees apply for workers’ comp. They must show that the task they were engaged in when an accident happened was directly related to their work duties. Naturally, this is likely to result in some confusion in the future.
When an accident occurs in a traditional workplace setting, it’s often easy to prove or disprove that it was work-related. When an accident happens in an employee’s home, determining if they qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if more challenging. You should expect to navigate such challenges if you’re one of the many Florida business owners who’s considering adopting a remote work or hybrid policy permanently.
However, you should also remember that your workers’ compensation insurance provider is the party most responsible for evaluating an employee’s claim and determining if they’re eligible for compensation. You can also reduce confusion to some degree by simply informing your employees that they will need to provide evidence showing an at-home accident was work-related should they ever be in a position to file a claim.
Case study: Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams
Reviewing the case of Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams can help you better understand how the impact telecommuting has on Florida workers’ compensation claims may sometimes prevent the involved parties from easily determining whether a claim is legitimate or not.
Typically, Florida’s workers’ compensation laws allow employees to be compensated for accidents that occur when they’re operating within the “course and scope of employment.” This applies even when an accident may have occurred while an employee was tending to their own personal comfort.
For example, perhaps an employee is feeling tired at work and thus decides to make themselves a cup of coffee in the break room. This may not technically be a work-related action in the strictest terms. However, if an accident occurred while the employee was making the cup of coffee, they would still usually be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in this scenario.
When an employee is working from home, though, various details that wouldn’t apply in an office setting can influence whether their claim should be denied. In the case of Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, an employee working from home was reaching for a cup of coffee during work hours when she tripped over her dog. She filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits in the aftermath.
The insurance provider didn’t wish to compensate the employee, and thus, a Judge of Compensation Claims was tasked with reviewing the claim to determine if the employee qualified for compensation in this instance. Initially, the judge decided that the employee was still operating in the scope of their employment when the accident occurred, and they were therefore eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. When elaborating on the ruling, the judge explained that the employee’s work environment had been moved to their home, so the same standards that would apply in an office should also apply there.
This was not the end of the case
The employer appealed the judge’s ruling. Florida’s First District Court of Appeals reviewed the claim again and determined that the factor of whether the employee’s job “necessarily expose[d] an employee to conditions which substantially contribute to the risk of injury” was what mattered most in this scenario.
After reviewing the claim, the DCA determined that the employee could have tripped over their dog in their home whether they were working or not. Thus, their job had not actually exposed them to a condition that contributed to risk of injury. Said condition could have caused an accident even if the employee wasn’t working.
Based on this conclusion, the DCA ruled that the employee was not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. That’s merely one example. Again, because remote work policies are becoming more common among Florida businesses, there’s a very strong chance similar cases will arise in the future.
As a Florida business owner
You need to prepare accordingly, at least to some extent. Once more, while your insurance provider may be more directly involved in determining when a claim is legitimate, you won’t be completely left out of such discussions. It’s important that both you and your employees understand the nuances of workers’ comp insurance claims when accidents occur at home or in another setting outside the office.
Even if you’re not an employer, if you work remotely in Florida, you must understand your rights to ensure you’re properly compensated when you deserve to be. If you believe an employer (or, more likely, their workers’ comp insurance provider) has unfairly denied a claim for compensation, strongly consider enlisting the help of an attorney to improve your chances of securing what you’re owed.