Can Work-At-Home Employees Claim Workers Comp If Injured at the Home Office? Most Likely Yes – And Businesses Should Be Prepared!
April 23, 2020
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As acting Legal Counsel for Executive Furniture Rentals, a Toronto-based furniture company that largely services the Canadian furniture rental and home staging industry, I was asked the other day whether workers compensation was claimable by employees who were now working remotely, or at home. For someone whose first job out of law school was at a law firm specializing in worker’s compensation law, I was intrigued. Normally, the rule for a lot of North American jurisdictions is that workers compensation is claimable when the injury occurs on the work-site. You must be at work and then injured at work to claim workers compensation. However, I would often come across cases where employees were injured in a car on their way to a work meeting, or injured in a car while on their way to their normal work site. In those instances, the law was not as clear cut.
Here, when it comes to work-at-home or remote work, the law once again could seem a little blurry. Obviously, someone working remotely is probably not going to be working at normal business headquarters. If that is the case, is workers compensation still claimable?
In the Province of Ontario, workers compensation, also characterized as WSIB benefits, is claimable by covered employees, if the injury is work-related. Almost all Ontario businesses are WSIB covered. This would include employees working in the following industries:
- Construction workers
- Retail workers
- Office employees
Therefore, if your boss has approved you working at home, your home office, or wherever you work remotely, that effectively becomes the business headquarters for your workers compensation purposes.
Which brings us to perhaps the most important part for workers compensation covered businesses: All businesses must make sure employee work-at-home arrangements are safe from hazards. Furthermore, these work-at-home arrangements must facilitate productivity. Steps that businesses can take to ensure their employee work-at-home arrangements are both safe and productive include the following:
- Ensuring that home office furniture (i.e. chairs, desk) are of quality make and do not induce or accentuate common workers compensation injuries (i.e. sore or debilitating back, carpel tunnel syndrome).
- Establishing boundaries with the employee on what constitutes the “home-office” workspace (i.e. the employee’s “work site” for WSIB purposes is the home office – not the living room).
- Ensuring that if an employee is injured while working, that he/she reports his/her injury as soon as possible to their supervisor. This requires effective communication streams and technology.
To avoid a conundrum associated with workers compensation, businesses should treat their employee home offices as if they were physically located at their main company headquarters. Preparation is crucial. This includes the furniture the employee is using to get work done, as well as ideally, preparing an agreement that establishes work-related boundaries at the home office. This then gives both the employee and employer a clear picture of what exactly constitutes the at-home office, and to where workers compensation is claimable.