Employer Liability For At-Home Injuries

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 What Is OSHA?

“OSHA,” or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is an agency associated with the Department of Labor. This agency is responsible for ensuring safety at work for all employees, as well as a healthy work environment. OSHA’s mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths by requiring employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers.

Additionally, OSHA is responsible for ensuring that its standards are being met by the businesses that meet criteria. However, because it is impossible for the agency to inspect every business, the government schedules OSHA inspections as follows:

  • Programmed inspections are regularly scheduled inspections for businesses that are in “high hazard” industries;
  • Investigation of imminent dangers occurs when any condition or practices present themselves, that could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm to employees;
  • Investigation of complaints, as OSHA has the responsibility to investigate complaints that are made by employees, or cases that are referred to them; and
  • Faulty and catastrophe investigations, which are for any work-related incident resulting in the death of an employee, or the in-patient hospitalization of three or more employees.

Inspections are conducted by compliance officers, and are generally conducted without advance notice by state compliance inspectors. While a prior announcement is not necessary, workplace inspections must be conducted in a reasonable manner and at a reasonable time, most commonly during the employer’s normal work hours.

What Is Workers Compensation?

Workers’ compensation is a state-mandated insurance program that provides compensation to employees who suffer from job-related injuries. An employee who is injured while on the job is guaranteed benefits regardless of who was at fault for the injury. In return for workers’ compensation benefits, employees are generally forced to forfeit the right to sue their employer in court for damages associated with their injuries. The rules which govern workers’ compensation are considerably different from the rules which govern other personal injury matters.

Generally speaking, workers’ compensation benefits include:

  • Replacement income;
  • Medical expenses;
  • Rehabilitation;
  • Long-term or lump sum pension, if you are permanently unable to work because of the injurious incident; and/or
  • Temporary disability pension while you are unable to work temporarily.

It is important to note that in order to satisfy workers’ compensation requirements, you must be an actual employee of your employer. What this means is that you cannot be considered an independent contractor. Additionally, your injuries must have been work related; meaning, no injuries which occur outside of the scope of your employment or place of work may be claimed for workers compensation purposes.

To reiterate, workers’ compensation is intended to provide benefits to injured workers, regardless of whether the injury was the employer’s or the employee’s fault. Generally speaking, as long as your injury is work-related, it is covered under workers’ compensation. Some examples of the most common injuries that are covered include:

  • Repetitive stress injuries;
  • Illnesses or diseases that are a gradual result of work conditions;
  • Traumatic physical injuries;
  • Repeated trauma injuries;
  • Mental injuries when associated with physical injury; and
  • Occupational diseases, such as hearing loss.

However, there are several types of injuries which remain uncovered by workers compensation. Examples include, but may not be limited to:

  • Self- inflicted injuries, including injuries you sustain when you cause a physical fight;
  • Injuries resulting from the commission of a serious crime;
  • Injuries resulting from when your conduct violates company policy;
  • Injuries sustained while intoxicated and/or under the influence of illegal drugs; and
  • Injuries in which the employee was acting in a reckless manner.

If I Work From Home, Or Telecommute, Is My Employer Liable For Work-Related Injuries?

In 1999, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) stated that an employer is completely liable to an employee who is injured at home, just as if they were injured while on the employer’s property. However, because this ruling was considered to be “controversial,” the answer was “clarified,” meaning it was reversed.

OSHA’s revised statement was: “We believe OSHA does not apply to an employee’s home or furnishings. OSHA will not hold employers liable for work activities in employees’ home offices. OSHA does not expect employers to inspect home offices. OSHA does not, and will not, inspect home offices.” An exception was made for home manufacturing workshops, and must comply with all health and safety standards. This means that they may be inspected if a complaint is made against them.

The Society for Human Resource Management, which is the world’s largest HR association, has determined that the entire field of working from home and telecommuting is a considerably gray area in a legal context. As such, a worker who is injured in a home office while conducting work for their employer is legally covered when that work is arranged and approved by the employer. Additionally, a company is liable for the injury as though it had happened on its premises.

An example of this would be how an employee, who slipped on the ice of their own driveway while going to the mailbox in order to retrieve a company document, was found to have suffered a “work related injury” and won a liability lawsuit against their employer. Although OSHA will not actively seek out and inspect home offices for safety violations, an employer can sometimes be held liable for work injuries that are suffered at home. The condition is that the injury has occurred while the employee is actually working, and not simply during working hours.

It is important to note that this only applies to OSHA; state employment organizations may have their own regulations regarding this issue.

Are There Any Standards For My Home Office?

In terms of standard for a personal home office, it is uncertain exactly where the liability line is drawn. Because of this, most employers have enacted various safety measures for home employees in an attempt to avoid liability for any employee injuries.

An example of this would be how some companies inspect home offices before allowing employees to telecommute, while others have set safety regulations for the workplace but may not actually inspect an employee’s home. In general, most employers mandate the use of office approved equipment. Examples of this include ergonomic desks, chairs, and keyboards.

In short, it is up to each employer to determine what safety standards should apply to home workers. As such, if you are an employer, it would be in your best interest to apply the same standards of safety from your office for your telecommuting workers. Doing so can minimize the chances of a negligence lawsuit.

Additionally, the only concrete standard is that OSHA will not inspect the homes of workers in order to determine whether they comply with federal regulations. However, this simply means that employers cannot be sued for violating the standards themselves; as such, your case largely depends on the presiding judge and the cases of precedent in your specific state, as well as your state’s laws which govern workplace injuries.

Do I Need An Attorney For Issues Associated With Employer Liability For At-Home Injuries?

Whether you are an employer or an employee involved in an issue associated with employer liability for at-home injuries, you should consult with an experienced and local worker’s compensation lawyer.

An attorney can inform you of your legal rights and options according to your specific state’s laws. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.

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