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Workers’ Compensation and the Virtual Employee

There was a time when work-life balance wasn’t even an afterthought. You went to work everyday, you did your job and you came home. Period. Your boss didn’t think twice about your ability to juggle your personal life along with work duties. He or she only cared about your time in the office and the amount of work you accomplished in your eight hour shift.

The advent of the telecommuter many years ago changed that a bit. If you were working at home, even some of the time, your boss was very interested in your activities. Still, however, they were focused on your time spent working and less so on your time at your kid’s school, for example.

Now, we have virtual workers. The virtual workplace is growing by leaps and bounds thanks to technology that allows people from all corners and time zones of the world to be connected 24/7. Today’s definition of “telecommuter” is anyone who is a full-time employee who works at least half their time at home or anywhere other than the company office. Laptops, smart phones, Skype and countless other pieces of technology and apps keep us plugged in– even when we don’t really want to be connected. The American Community Survey released interesting statistics; between 2005 and 2012, the virtual workforce increased by 79 percent and it could amount for about one-third of the entire US workforce.

Three-plus years later, the numbers are likely to be even more substantial.

So, what happens if you get hurt when you are in your virtual office and not on the premises your company claims as home base? Workers’ Compensation law says that if you get injured while performing your work duties, you still may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits. These benefits include medical treatment, replacement pay and, depending on your long-term injuries, a cash settlement.

The issue at hand is whether or not the company could be held responsibility for injuries sustained outside its control. Although Workers’ Comp benefits are supposed to cover the employee’s workplace – which in the case of a virtual worker is technically where they perform their work duties – case law has determined that judges have leeway in this arena.

There was a case when a manager at AT&T had a heart attack while working in her home office after hours. She died and her spouse was awarded surviving spouse death benefits at first. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed that decision noting that the woman’s heart attack was not within the control of the employer.

Workers’ Compensation law is complex and requires the knowledge and experience of a skilled personal injury lawyer who can explain the laws to you. Contact the Workers’ Comp lawyers at Rudnick, Addonizio, Pappa & Casazza PC for assistance with your claim.

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