There’s no place like home – workers compensation claims in the world of remote workingSeptember 14, 2020 |
Over the past six months, many of us have been forced into a proverbial nosedive into the work from home world. While we have mastered the art of the Zoom ensemble, dabbled in elementary education, and traded colleagues for furry, four-legged companions, the telework debacle has opened up a new spectrum of legal questions centered around remote working–namely, worker’s compensation. Does worker’s compensation insurance have to cover an employee injured under the conditions of their own home?
Good news for employers, the First DCA provided an answer in the 2019 case, Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams. Tammitha Valcourt-Williams had a work-from-home arrangement as a workers' compensation claims adjuster for Sedgwick. Valcourt-Williams was working from home one day, when she went downstairs for a cappuccino. As she reached to get a cup, she fell over one of her dogs, injuring her knee, hip, and shoulder. As irony would have it, she subsequently filed a workers' compensation claim.
Under § 440.09(1), Florida Statutes, employers must provide workers' compensation benefits when employees sustain injuries from accidents “arising out of work performed in the course and the scope of employment.” The “course and scope of employment” means in the period of employment, in a place where the employee would reasonably be, and while fulfilling the employee’s duties.
Sedgwick agreed Valcourt-Williams’s injuries occurred in the course and scope of her employment because she “would reasonably be” in her home working at the time of the accident and her coffee break was a permissible “comfort break”. However, Sedgwick denied the claim, contending that the injuries did not arise out of the employment because the employment did not subject her to an “increased risk of injury particular to that employment”. Despite Sedgwick’s argument, the Judge of Compensation Claims determined the injury was compensable because Sedgwick “imported the work environment into the claimant’s home and the [c]laimant’s home into the work environment.” Sedgwick appealed.
The relevant question is whether the employment—whether it be in home, office, or elsewhere—“necessarily exposes a claimant to conditions which substantially contribute to the risk of injury.” The First DCA found the risk of Ms. Valcourt-Williams tripping over her dog while reaching for a cup of coffee in her kitchen existed at home whether she was working or not, existed before she worked for Sedgwick, and would exist after her employment with Sedgwick–so long as she had a dog. Thus, the First DCA held the risk did not arise out of the employment and reversed the lower court’s determination that the injury was compensable.
Employers need to understand the law and the effects of having their employees work from home. The attorneys of Andrews, Crabtree, Knox & Longfellow stand ready to advise employers as they face new realities brought on by COVID-19.
 Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, 271 So. 3d 1133 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019), reh'g denied (May 30, 2019), review denied, SC19-1044, 2019 WL 5546111 (Fla. Oct. 28, 2019).
 Id. at 1134.
 Id. at 1135.
 Bryant v. David Lawrence Mental Health Ctr., 672 So.2d 629, 631 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996).
 Sedgwick, 271 So. 3d at 1135; see also Bayfront Med. Ctr. v. Harding, 653 So.2d 1140, 1142 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995).
 Sedgwick, 271 So. 3d at 1135; see also Grenon v. City of Palm Harbor Fire Dist., 634 So.2d 697, 699 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994).
 Sedgwick, 271 So. 3d at 1134.
 Sedgwick, 271 So. 3d at 1134; see also Sentry Ins. Co. v. Hamlin, 69 So.3d 1065, 1068 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011).
 Sedgwick, 271 So. 3d at 1134.
 Id. at 1138.