Who pays when you’re injured working from home

SEATTLE — LeeAnn Starovasnik, of Seattle, works from home for a large healthcare provider as a counselor helping people quit smoking. And while taking a break between calls, she fell.

“I went for my normal walk. I left my house, crossed the street,” says LeeAnn. “And my left foot just stepped right on the edge of the drop-off of the road. And I went down.”

She broke both of her arms.

“Both elbows. And my left ulna. And my forearm in several places. So I needed a plate and screws to put it all back together again,” says LeeAnn.

The question is, does LeeAnn have a valid worker’s compensation claim?

LeeAnn’s case forces a big question: with nearly 50 percent of us working from home these days, if you get hurt at home is it seen the same by the state as if it happened at the office?

“It’s one of those things where you don’t know what to do until you’re actually hurt on the job,” says Vickie Kennedy, Assistant Director of Insurance Services for Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries.

Kennedy says an employer may be liable if a worker is hurt while taking a break during the work day.

“Worker’s compensation is not necessarily limited to where an accident happens,” says Kennedy. “It’s about whether or not the worker was furthering that business of the employer. Whether they’re getting direction from the employer.”

So it doesn’t matter as much where they’re at but really more about what were they doing, are they working for the employer at that time.

—  Vickie Kennedy, Washington Department of Labor and Industries

Kennedy also says your company has to ensure that you have a safe work-from-home environment.

“And sometimes that will mean buying that headphone, buying that ergonomically correct keyboard so that you’re supporting the worker’s ability to work safely at home,” says Kennedy.

Also, if you are driving in the course of working and you are injured in an accident, that too may count as a workman’s comp claim.

Lawyer Bill Hochberg specializes in worker’s compensation cases.

“We have a personal comfort doctrine which means you’re covered in lunchtime or breaks,” says Hochberg. “If you are on a totally personal errand not during work hours, that’s when you are not covered.”

Back to LeeAnn’s case. Remember, she was working from home, went for a walk during a break, fell and broke both of her arms.

She filed a claim and ended up being denied by the state.

Attorney Grady Martin filed an appeal on her behalf.

“Lots of errors happen at the department level. That’s why there’s a system in place where you can appeal those decisions,” says Martin.

Part of me thought this was for more than just me because I’m not the only home based worker these days.

—  LeeAnn Starovasnik

LeeAnn had plenty of documentation showing the company encouraged walking on breaks while working from home.

Court documents reveal company training manuals saying:

“After hitting certain call # for the hour you may wish to consider getting up walking, stretching...”

And:

“Some suggestions are walking around the block or doing some other sort of exercise.”

With that evidence in hand, LeeAnn took her case to King County Superior court. Three years after the fall she won.

The judge wrote: “she was near her home office at the time of the fall and was performing an activity that was reasonable and encouraged by her employer.”

“It felt amazing. I was so delightfully surprised,” says LeeAnn.

Remember, you have rights when you work from home. So if you get injured, don’t be afraid to file a claim. Your doctor can help with that.

“Well, if they don’t know their rights they may end up with huge hospital bills that could cause them to lose their home,” says LeeAnn. “Or really make a huge impact, not just now but in the future.

Jesse’s bottom line:

If you’re on a break and you’re injured, you may be covered. If you are driving for work purposes, you may be covered.

If you are injured, you have a year to file a written claim. And it must be written. And - go see your doctor.

L & I pays all of the medical bills and you shouldn’t be charged co-pays or deductibles. So, if you get a bill, something has gone wrong with your claim.

Email Jesse right now at consumer@kiro7.com