When Is A Injury From A Work From Home Worker Work-Related


By Phil La Duke
I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business
Lone Gunman Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence

This week, while working in my home office, I rushed from my upstairs office to my front door. When I rounded the top of the staircase I lost my balance and fell from the top of the staircase onto my neck and elbow. I was literally airborne and quite nearly broke my neck.  I realize many of you might find it amusing or even gratifying that I nearly died in my office; enjoy the laugh. For those of you who are legitimately concerned about my well-being thank you. I can’t say I escaped unscathed and I was sore as hell yesterday but apart from the scrape on my elbow and a stiff neck feel okay.  (for the record, it was a rare occasion where I wasn’t wearing shoes having left the snow-caked boots that I usually wear this time of year at the front door.)

As I lay there, my breath completely knocked out of me I got to thinking: First, was I injured? And then If I was injured would I be covered by Workers’ Compensation.

It was an odd thought to enter my head—I have never even considered applying for Workers’ Compensation benefits, let alone collected Workers’ Compensation. Frankly, I have never given it much thought, after all, I reasoned, my company is very supportive of safe work and will always support me if I stop work because it’s too dangerous.  Add to that, that the work that I routinely do from home is more intellectually taxing than physically. For the record keeping my stairs clear of trip-hazards is a priority. It’s hard to explain except that I was focused on getting the business-related delivery because I had been anxiously awaiting it. My house was built in 1936 and the stairway is narrow and steep with smaller than steps in houses today. My theory is that in my haste I missed the top step and was flung heels over head to the 8-foot drop. I would say I was lucky, but lucky people win lotteries they don’t fall down stairs. Please spare me the lectures about what I should have done—he among you who has never been injured throw the first stone.

Still, I fell, and not only did I fall I somehow fell in such a spectacular manner that grabbing the handrail wasn’t remotely possible. I have a bump on my head, but my shoulder and elbow to the brunt of the force.  My neck was strained but I show no sign of internal bleeding so I knew it wasn’t an OSHA recordable. That’s when it hit me, that’s when I realized why my mind immediately jumped to Workers’ Compensation. It wasn’t that I was greedy for medical disability leave, it was because we now live in a climate where my company’s ability to bid on projects rely, in many cases, on whether or not our incident rate and DART rate are below a certain threshold.

Contrary to what some seem to believe I love my job and certainly don’t want to jeopardize my and its (mostly mine) ability to compete for the big projects. But what if…

Where does this unreasonable fear come from? Our company has a good safety record and certainly does its best (sometimes to the point of becoming maddeningly persistent) to make sure workers are safe. For example, my work as a Production Safety Consultant often takes me to areas where it is unsafe to travel, and certainly unsafe to break down. In those cases my insists that I a) inspect my vehicle daily to avoid any obvious breakdowns and have enough gas, b) provide my travel route to the office admin and c) text the office admin AND an office buddy when I leave the house and when I arrive on site.  (I also have to text if I am delayed.) To some that might seem a little ridiculous but to me it shows a genuine interest in my safety and well being. It made me feel engaged.

As it turns out in the US (and elsewhere) employers have the same burden to protect workers who telecommute as they do for workers in a traditional office.  But what constitutes working while at home? If I creep down to the kitchen for a snack am I on-the-clock or off-the-clock? Would I be considered? I was once injured in a hotel while working at for a former employer and when I reported it I was told: “that it wasn’t work-related because a hotel is a temporary domicile.” So the message I took away was: “we don’t care that you got injured”.  I thought that my (former) employer would at least consider it a near miss, but in too many instances companies are more worried about case management than on improving their safety performance.

This is a shame since the companies monitoring the safety performance of their contractor most assuredly don’t want to create a climate of under-reporting and while this is not the case at our company, or even most companies at an institutional level, who can say how an individual will take this message, and what’s more the contractor’s don’t have a choice—if their safety rates hit an arbitrary level they can’t bid. So you have a population out there that already may have a questionable safety culture and safety performance and you give them the biggest incentive to under report.  This is just another case of corporate fiats causing unintended and unwanted to consequences.

But let’s get back to the matter at hand: when does an injury in the home of a worker from a home office constitute work related.  I (by my own choice) work around the clock usually starting around 5:00 a.m. taking breaks and finish up about 9:00 p.m. It’s my choice, but the point is that as long as I get my work done and meet my goals there aren’t any working hours, so that can’t be a criterion, and even though any injury on a company’s premises would be considered work-related. My boss was very concerned about my injury for the record and wanted to make sure that I wasn’t doing the “blood in the pocket” game.  He told me repeatedly that if I felt the need to go to the doctor.

I could have easily been killed in this incident, so the least of my worries should have been whether or not my injury was recordable, but thanks to well-meaning but misguided companies, and vague guidelines from OSHA I did. Fortunately, since I know the recordable guidelines, and fortunately so does our internal Safety Director. But there may come a day when I am severely injured or die on the job while working from home? How ironic would that be?

I am proud to announce that Marriah Publications has published my second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention.  This is all new material that cannot be found anywhere else. While homicide accounts for 10% of workplace fatalities this is a problem that can be easily prevented. Victims of domestic violence are disproportionately affected. Of women murdered in the workplace, 48% will be killed by a family member or domestic partner, while only 2% of men are killed this way.  I wrote this book at the request of my publisher, as there are growing numbers of “experts” who are treating random mass shootings (where the goal is usually a high body count) the same as single shooter events in the workplace (which tend to target a specific individual.) The research I did was eye-opening for me as I expect it will be for you too.  This is one of the most powerful things I have ever written so I hope you will find it useful.

It can be purchased in hard cover or paper back at Amazon (US and Canada) or Barnes & Nobel (as it stands now B&N is only listing the hardcover but I’m told the paperback will be on sale this Monday.  It’s an important book on a serious topic as scene through my bleary eyed lens.)

Of course my first book is still for sale…

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Nobel.com. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect fewer reprints and more new material).

In all seriousness, I have been blogging for free (without sponsors or advertising) for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy a damned book.