Home-Based Injury Claims Expected to Rise

31 Mar, 2020 Nancy Grover


Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Are injuries sustained by employees working from home compensable? Clearly, there are claims that are considered occupational injuries but it’s often unclear whether an injury in a worker’s home occurred in the course and scope of employment. There is also not a plethora of caselaw about the issue.

But with so many employees working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s highly likely more remote-based claims will be filed. Experts are weighing in on how to determine compensability and ways employers can keep their home-based workers stay injury free.

The Legal Questions

For claims filed by remote workers, the trend in many states is to resolve them in favor of the injured worker. “Obviously, the employee controls the version of events communicated to the employer and carrier,” according to a bulletin to clients from Downs Stanford. “Limited access to the actual facts is a major impediment to defending work at home claims.”

In its guide to work-at-home claims, the law firm points out that compensability will depend on whether the worker was “furthering the business affairs of the employer and the activity originated in the work, business, trade or profession of the employer.”

Among the suggestions are that stakeholders verify the employee’s work assignments and duties before taking recorded statements and that the tasks were actually done at the date and time when the injury was said to have occurred. Any at-home video recordings should be preserved.

Types of Claims Expected

Injuries to the back, neck, shoulder, and wrist are among those that may result in claims from these temporary home-based workers. Employees will typically be working in less than ergonomically correct environments. But there are temporary fixes that can help tremendously.

“All we need is to know about open angles, neutral posture and how to take control of how much cumulative micro trauma we endure,” said Dennis Downing, founder and CEO of Future Industrial Technologies. “We can take control by knowing simple things. Office ergonomics is really simple.”

Setting up a work station to be the best fit for the worker is not an inherent skill; it’s something that must be learned. Unfortunately, the majority of people working in office environments already go home each day with fatigue, discomfort and/or pain because they are not adequately adjusting to their work stations.  

“Most people, are being dictated to; their work stations, monitors, their keyboards, the mouse, are dictating the position of our body,” Downing said. “What we want people to do is take control of that and to put the monitors, keyboards, chairs in a position that is ideal for them. So we are going to dictate to the work station and not have it dictate to us how we will feel.”

Since they are already predisposed to pain and discomfort, working from home in even less ideal circumstances can exacerbate pain and lead to injuries. What is needed is some education and simple adjustments. It’s “not promoting buying new furniture or equipment, it’s temporary,” Downing said. “What we can do is we can improve what we have very easily. It may not be perfect, but it will be better.”

It starts with understanding several basic concepts.

Circulation provides oxygen to the body and take away waste. Sitting, even correctly, limits motion, which limits circulation. Ideally, we should have open rather than closed angles; that is, at least a 90 degree angle. If you put your right hand up to your right shoulder, you are creating a closed angle, which cuts circulation.

“When you combine not knowing how to sit, and have closed angles, it cuts that circulation down even more and when we put our head in a forward head posture – jutting the chin out – there’s a reflex in the body that inhibits one from taking a deep breath,” Downing explained. “The cumulative effect is fatigue, discomfort maybe some pain and if it’s not changed over time can turn into an injury. That’s the cycle of cumulative micro trauma.”

The cure is to make sure the arms are parallel to the floor. The ankles, knees, hips and elbows should be at least at a 90 degree angle, as that helps circulation.

“When you set up a chair, what we want is your knees slightly below your hips. If they are higher than your hips, your knees will be higher, and [that’s a] closed angle. You want that open,” Downing said. “The height of your chair, for example at a dining room table, may not be adjustable. Maybe use a pillow to raise yourself. Simple things.”

Keyboard placement is another major factor. “Most of the time unless you’re six-foot-two or more, if you put the keyboard on a desk or table, it will be too high, meaning your hands will be higher than your elbows,” Downing said. “Raise the chair with a pillow. Another option would be to shake your hands out to get the circulation going after a while because,  again, you’re not making it perfect, just adapting. So shake it out every once in a while.”

Having to reach for the keyboard or the mouse can lead to neck and shoulder pain and injuries. Instead, they should be placed so the body is in a neutral posture. The more the arms are reaching forward or to the side, the more weight your neck and shoulders have to accommodate. Keeping the keyboard and mouse close to the body minimizes the stress on the body.

The monitor should be at eye level. “Use a small box to raise it if it’s too low,” Downing said. “You want the monitor at eye level and the distance of the monitor to where you are not leaning forward or using that forward head posture … not only does that inhibit a good breath, but is causes neck and shoulder tension. We don’t want people in that forward head posture with the chin jutted out.”

Laptops can create additional problems, since the monitor will typically be lower. Downing suggests using a 3-ring binder or something else under it to create a slope coming toward you. “It raises the monitor height significantly,” he said. “What that does it raises the screen height and puts the keyboard on an angle that can help keep the wrists straight. Note, the hands will be higher than the elbows and close the elbow angle, so shake out your arms and hands.”

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    About The Author

    • Nancy Grover

      Nancy Grover is a freelance writer having recently retired as the Director, Media Services for WorkersCompensation.com. She comes to our company with more than 35 years as a broadcast journalist and communications consultant. Grover’s specialties include insurance, workers’ compensation, financial services, substance abuse, healthcare and disability. For 12 years she served as the Program Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. A journalism/speech graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Grover also holds an MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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