Your Legal Corner will discuss ” Workers’ Compensation and nontraditional employment.“
Over 120 years ago, the first Monday of September was designated as Labor Day to commemorate the social and economic contributions of American workers. Ironically, each year most of us celebrate this worker’s holiday by taking the day off from work!
Interestingly enough, although we may not physically go into work on Labor Day, whether as an intern or an employee, this does not necessarily mean we are not working. In fact, current technology now allows most to “remain connected” and to work wherever they may be. This circumstance demonstrates how the workplace has evolved, a happening that the founders of the “modern” labor movement in the 1890s could not have predicted.
The notion of working “9 to 5” in a traditional office is giving way to the virtual workplace environment. Technology enables many individuals to conduct business from just about any physical location. These individuals-defined, as “telecommuters” are fulltime employees at a private, nonprofit or government association who work at least half their time at home or other non-work location.
It is difficult to determine how prevalent this trend is becoming. According to a survey from the American Community Survey, telecommuting has risen 79 percent between 2005 and 2012 and could be as much as 30 percent of the workforce.
Importantly, the question presented by this nontraditional employment is whether or not workers’ compensation laws govern telecommuters?
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance designed to provide income and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of their employment. A worker covered under workers’ compensation gives up his or her right to sue for negligence in exchange for receipt of these guaranteed benefits.
The virtual office of the telecommuter has broadened the scope of what is considered the “workplace” under workers’ compensation laws. Under New Jersey law, a “workplace” is now defined as all places where workers need to be or go by reason of their work and which are under the direct or indirect control of the employer.
While the advantages of being a telecommuter are an employee is often more productive, and the position itself is family-friendly, just to name a few, the application of existing workers’ compensation laws pose significant challenges.
For example, in one New Jersey case, an AT&T manager worked after hours from her virtual office in her home. While working, she suffered a heart attack and died. Initially, the Judge awarded her surviving spouse death benefits.
However, the NJ Supreme Court reversed this decision finding that the cause of death, a heart attack, was not sufficiently within the control of the employer to merit dependency benefits under New Jersey law. The Court reasoned that her death was not caused by a work effort or strain involving a substantial condition, event or happening.
It appears while courts will consider workers’ compensation benefits for a telecommuter; an employee must still substantiate the nexus between work and the injury to recover. Consult with a workers’ comp attorney to know for sure if you have a claim.
Till next time, God bless, keep smiling, when Your Legal Corner, will discuss “Product liability and false advertising.”
Victoria M. Dalton is an attorney with the law offices of Hoffman DiMuzio.
Send questions, or comments to Victoria at [email protected] Or call 856-845-8243.
Please note that Your Legal Corner was created to provide educational articles about the law and is not legal advice.