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Working From Home Blurs Line Between Personal and Workplace Injury

Written by Geoffrey Howard and Sebastian Chern

Howard Employment Law

Remote working arrangements present many new challenges for employers and employees. In addition to internet connectivity, ‘Zoom fatigue’, productivity, and flagging morale, employers have to consider workplace health and safety requirements for their employees working from home.

As is the case with any workplace, whether it is an office building, a shop or factory floor, or home office, employers have a duty to prevent injuries and ensure employee safety. Employers should ensure that they have a basic health and safety policy for working from home, which should require workers to assess their workspace and report any potential hazards to their manager. The policy should also contain evacuation protocols, safe work practices, protocols for reporting work-related incidents or injuries, procedures for check-ins for employees working alone and ensuring work stations are ergonomically sound. Employers should conduct a home workplace risk assessment with their employees to further reduce risks and prevent injury. WorkSafeBC’s requirements and suggestions for managing safety for home-based employees can be found here and here.

Woman with red hair working from home
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Employees are entitled to compensation from WorkSafeBC for injuries sustained while working, including from home. To be compensable, an injury must both arise out of and in the course of the worker’s employment. WorkSafeBC will consider what the employee was doing at the time of the injury (i.e. working v personal activity) and whether that activity was connected with their employment. The activity that causes the injury needs to be required by or reasonably incidental to the employment.

Under existing case law, determining whether an injury that occurs while travelling or parking at work is compensable can be a complex fact-specific exercise. With working from home arrangements, the line between work and personal related activities is further blurred. What accidents and injuries are covered by WorkSafeBC will depend on what the employee was doing, whether it was during work hours, what room they were in and where they normally work in their home, amongst other factors.

Injuries sustained by an employee while working at their designated home work station or desk will normally be compensable. For example, an employee who hurt their back while bending over for a pen they dropped at their home workspace was found to have suffered a compensable injury, as it was sufficiently connected with their employment. On the other hand, if an employee hurts their back bending over to get a snack from the refrigerator during a break, the injury may not be considered connected to the employee’s employment, as it did not “arise out of” their employment.

What if an employee suffers a fall while walking from their bedroom or kitchen to their home office? Outside the home workplace, injuries that occur while commuting to work or when taking off-site meal breaks are generally not compensable. Compensation coverage typically begins when the worker enters the employer’s premises for the commencement of work and stops when the worker leaves the premises for lunch breaks or at the end of their shift.

With working from home, there is certainly potential for an employee’s slip and fall during the workday to be compensable. Employees may argue that falling in the stairs while getting a coffee in the kitchen is analogous to a fall when visiting the lunchroom on a break at the employer’s worksite, which is generally compensable. Depending on the specific details of the accident, such a fall could arguably have arisen out of and in the course of employment.

Accidents are difficult to predict or entirely prevent. However, with proper policies, training and risk assessments, employers can ensure that their workers are just as safe at home as they are in the office, if not more so.

Contact us to establish proper policies in your workplace.

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