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NY Courts Have Ruled that Workers’ Compensation Principles Should Be Applied to At-Home Workers

NY Courts Have Ruled that Workers’ Compensation Principles Should Be Applied to At-Home Workers

March 5, 2021
Paul Ajlouny

Appellate Judge Remands Case to Apply Regular Workers’ Comp Standards for Employee Working From Home

It is a long-established principle that accidental injuries that arise out of and in the course of employment are compensable through workers’ compensation, but what happens when an employee is injured while working from home? Do the same standards apply as if they were in the office?

At Ajlouny Injury Law, we represent individuals who are injured on-the-job. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced thousands of people to work from home. Most people do not realize that if you are injured out of and in the course of employment, you are likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits regardless of whether you were in the workplace or working from home. 

If you were injured while working in New York City, contact Ajlouny Injury Law for free legal advice about your rights to recovery.

Arising Out Of and In the Course of Employment

A New York Appellate Court reversed and remanded a workers’ compensation case that the Workers’ Compensation Board had initially denied after they tried to apply a new, stricter standard for employees working from home. The judge made clear that regular workers’ compensation standards should be applied to employees.

According to the decision in Matter of Capraro v. Matrix Absence Management, 2020 NY Slip Op 06000 (3d Dept 2020), the Workers’ Compensation Board must determine whether the activity which caused the injury was “purely personal.” The Board, however, may not apply a “rigid new standard” for employees working from home. 

The Case At Hand

Matrix Absence Management hired Christopher Capraro to work from home as a claims examiner. The company provided Mr. Capraro with computer equipment but was unwilling to cover the cost of office furniture. In June 2016, Mr. Capraro was injured while carrying boxes of unassembled office furniture to his home office. 

After applying for workers’ compensation benefits, his claim was initially denied by a judge. The judge found that his injuries did not “arise out of and in the course of his employment.” The judge’s decision was affirmed on appeal by a workers’ compensation panel, with one member dissenting. A review by the full Workers’ Compensation Board upheld the judge’s decision stating that his injuries were not sufficiently work-related.

Applying a New Standard for Remote Employees

The Workers’ Compensation Board determined that a new, stricter standard should be applied to employees working from home. 

According to the Board, to be compensable, an injury must:

  • Occur during regular work hours; and 
  • Occur while the employee is actively engaged in work duties.

In doing so, the Board disregarded principles that allow for workers’ compensation benefits to be recovered during short breaks, which do not constitute an interruption in employment sufficient to bar recovery. 

The appellate court determined that the Board was incorrect in applying a new standard to remote employees finding that the Board was “unsupported by precedent” and that the decision was “inconsistent with ‘the remedial nature of the Workers’ Compensation Law.’” 

Place of Employment

In determining whether a new standard should apply for remote workers, the court stated that a regular pattern of working from home renders an employee’s residence as a “place of employment.” 

Therefore, traditional standards should be applied regardless of whether the employee is at a conventional workplace maintained by the employer or working from home at their residence. The court remanded the case to the Board to issue a decision consistent with the normal principles applied in workers’ compensation cases. 

“Purely Personal”

Under long-standing workers’ compensation principles, an injury is not compensable if it occurred while the employee was engaged in a “purely personal” activity. A purely personal activity is one that is not reasonable or sufficiently work-related under the circumstances. 

In this instance, the appellate court remitted the case for the Board to determine whether Mr. Capraro was engaged in a purely personal act when he moved the boxes of unassembled furniture. Ultimately the question becomes whether the act was within the scope of employment and sufficiently work-related.

Short Breaks 

The court also found that it would be incorrect to apply a standard that did not allow for compensation when employees are injured on short breaks such as coffee breaks or bathroom breaks. A short break is defined as a “momentary deviation from the work routine for a customary and accepted purpose.”

Injuries that occur during a “short break” have long been considered insufficient to bar an employee from recovery under workers’ compensation law since they are closely related to the performance of the job and do not constitute a sufficient interruption in employment.

At the Direction of the Employer

The court reminded the Board, injuries do not need to be at the employer’s direction or for the direct benefit of the employer to be compensable under Workers’ Compensation Law. The eligibility rests on whether the act was within the scope of employment or “purely personal.” 

Furthermore, employees injured during their lunch hour are not automatically barred from compensation as long as the facts show that the activity was sufficiently work-related. The reversal of the Board’s decision means that they must now determine whether Mr. Capraro moving the furniture was sufficiently work-related or a purely personal act. Their decision must be consistent with the appellate court’s findings.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits for At-Home Employees

In the long run, the appellate court decision was a win for employees injured on-the-job while working from home. By remanding the case back to the Board, the court held that there should not be a separate standard for remote employees. The fact that an employee does not go to a traditional workplace maintained by an employer does not bar them from recovery.

To be a compensable injury, the injurious act must have arisen out of and within the course of employment. 

Under Workers’ Compensation Law, an employee must show that the activity that caused the injury:

  • Was reasonable; and
  • Sufficiently work-related under the circumstances.

Short breaks are not considered an interruption in employment that would bar an employee from recovery, nor would the fact that it is a worker’s lunch hour.

How COVID-19 Changed the American Workforce

COVID-19 forever changed the landscape of the American workforce. Non-essential businesses had to adapt to government shutdowns and stay-at-home orders quickly. In order to remain productive, many businesses opted to allow their employees to work from home. To the surprise of many, many companies remained profitable despite a shift to remote working. 

As the health crisis shows signs of retreating, CEOs across the country are now considering whether to allow employees to remain working from home. The New York appellate court decision helps to ensure that the remote workforce is not precluded from workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured on the job.

 Workplace accidents can occur at any location, regardless of whether it is maintained by the employer. It is essential that American workers have the right to pursue compensation for these injuries if they occur.

Contact Ajlouny Injury Law for a Free Consultation

If you are injured while working from home, contact Ajlouny Injury Law today for a free consultation. Our lawyers have recovered millions for injury victims throughout New York City. Remote employees have the same rights to compensation as those that have been injured in a traditional office. 

Call (718) 233-3913 now if you were denied workers’ compensation benefits. If your case was rejected by another law firm, we might still be able to help. Get in touch today for a free second opinion. 

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