Second Quarter 2020
By: Tracy Thompson
Question: If an employee (“telecommuter”) who works primarily from home is injured while performing a task related to his or her job duties, is the injury compensable even though the event occurred in the employee’s home?
Short Answer: Yes, in Indiana, if an employee works primarily from home and is injured while performing a task related to her job duties, the injury is compensable as long as the employee meets her burden of proving the injury occurred “arising out of and in the course of” her employment.
Discussion: To receive benefits under the Indiana Workers Compensation Act, an injured employee must show that her injury occurred “by accident arising out of and in the course of employment.” Ind. Code §22-3-2-2. It is no different for a telecommuting employee. Indiana courts have held that “arising out of” and “in the course of” are two separate and distinct elements. The “arising out of” element refers to the causal connection between the accident and the employment, while the “in the course of” element refers to the time, place, and circumstances of the accident. Arnold v. Rose Acre Farms, Inc., 966 N.E.2d 107 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012).
Injuries sustained by employees who work primarily from home can be compensable, because the home, or at least certain parts of it, is a place of employment, meeting the “in the course of” employment element. However, the employee still has the burden of proving the injury was “arising out of employment.” Indiana has no reported case law to date on the specific issues of home-based employees, so consideration of which Hearing Member would decide the case should a hearing be necessary is important.
Practice Tip: For an employee injured while working at home, the specific facts surrounding the injury will be crucial. Was the employee engaged in work-related task at the time of injury? Did the injury occur during set work hours? Did the injury occur in a designated work area such as a home office? If there were no witnesses to the accident, the employee’s credibility in convincing the Hearing Member that the injury did arise out of and in the course of employment could also be a decisive factor. Knowledge and familiarity with the Hearing Members plays a significant role in predicting compensability decisions on close calls and involving factual issues.