Everyone’s talking about the struggle to fuel our nation: where to find the cheapest gas, techniques for getting the most out of your gas, what car to drive for the best mileage, etc. But some are taking it a step further; why pay for the fuel to get to work when you could choose to not pay for fuel at all.
While some companies are offering a 4-day work week with extended hours, others are giving employees the option to work from home. Telecommuting, already increasingly popular in our age of gadget gorging and emotion via email, has attracted a new branch of followers since gas prices hit $4 and continue to climb. Sure, everyone is announcing plans to harness wind energy and offer electric cars, but until these pie-in-the-sky dreams become affordable realities, working from home is one effective way to cope with money woes for those whose jobs are conducive to such labor.
But what if you’re injured “on the job” from home? It sounds oxymoronic, but it could easily happen nowadays. The same way that you could trip and fall moving from the copy room to your desk at the office, you might slip and fall on your trip from going to grab a file from your bookshelf to sitting down at your home computer. As anyone who works from home knows, just because you’re not at the office doesn’t mean you’re having a pajama party (not that working in one’s PJs isn’t an added bonus to the work-from-home routine). The point is that if you suffer an injury arising out of and in the course of your employment, your employer should compensate you.
Obviously, the particulars are going to be especially relevant in these cases. Did you happen to trip while carefully traversing the relatively clutter-free expanse of a home office; or were you juggling a latte, a personal call, and laptop while navigating your should-have-been-cleaned-two-weeks-ago apartment when you broke your arm after falling on top of one of your piles of clothes? It’s really the details that count here.
This sort of claim relates to the newest legal frontier: internet law. That means that many details are still sketchy. With more and more of us making the virtual commute, however, the color of work-from-home claims is slowly being added. I came across an interesting case involving an employee on his way back home (where he frequently worked) from an after-hours meeting with his supervisor. He was severely injured, involved in a car accident and then hit by another vehicle after stepping outside his car.
While one’s commute is generally not covered by workers’ compensation, two notable exceptions are the dual purpose doctrine and the mutual benefit doctrine. The ‘dual purpose doctrine’ allows that workers’ compensation covers an employee when her employment creates the necessity for travel, even if she is also serving some purpose of her own. The ‘mutual benefit doctrine,’ on the other hand, establishes that injuries suffered by the employee while she is performing some activity for the mutual benefit of herself and the employer is compensable when some advantage for the employer arises out of this activity.
The court in the Missouri case described above held that the plaintiff should be covered for his injuries because he was injured on his way from work, transporting documents that he needed to continue working at home. The court explained: “compensation for injuries while traveling home may be proper under the dual purpose doctrine when it can genuinely and not fictionally be said that the home has become part of the employment premises. In those circumstances, an employee fulfills a dual purpose by traveling home: the personal purpose of making a normal trip home, and the business purpose of reaching a second employment situs. An employee demonstrates this by showing a clear business use of the home at the end of the specific journey during which the accident occurred.”
As you can see, technology is quickly changing the shape of our world. And that means changes to both work life and home life, and—for most of us—the blurry new intersection of the two. The case above illustrates that it’s the nature of our activity, rather than the location where we perform it, that categorizes our space for the future.