21st Century Workers’ Comp: When the Workplace is Everywhere
When you think “Workers’ Compensation,” you think “Injury at Work,” right? Traditionally, most work-related injuries occur at a factory, or a plant, or an office. First comes a big crash or bang or screech. Next come the co-workers, rushing to scoop up the injured worker. Then come the sirens and the ambulance and the doctors and the medical bills. Unfortunately, accidents like these have happened for centuries and will continue to happen.
What does “at work” really mean?
But for many North Carolina workers, the 21st century work environment is vastly different from years past. Nowadays, many folks celebrate finishing up a full day of work at the office by…doing more work. Yes, many employees, after shutting off their lights and clocking out, still are expected to work from home during the weekends and evenings. They (and their bosses) loathe any dreaded “down-time,” so they multi-task. They squeeze in work calls during their commute and even during their lunch break. They finish up work from their tablets or laptops at home or in their children’s carpool line.
The expansion of the physical “workplace” and increase in the time spent “working” corresponds to more opportunity for unusual or unexpected on-the-job injuries. Workers in non-traditional arrangements must be diligent to consult a workers’ compensation attorney when injured, because the question of whether they were “at work” is more complicated than ever.
And what is a “workplace?”
If everyone works all the time, and in every place, then where is the “workplace?” When workers are injured outside the traditional workplace, North Carolina courts must grapple with new questions, such as whether the employee was working when injured, whether their environment constituted a workplace, and whether the work was part of the job. Many North Carolina employees in traditional office jobs now also work via smart phones from a variety of “workplaces:”
- A kid’s birthday party, where a vendor finalizes contract arrangements
- The commute home from work, where a doctor chats with a nurse about a patient
- A grocery check-out line, where a marketing coordinator texts a team member to finalize details for a meeting
- The drive home from work, where an office assistant calls his boss to confirm a project deadline
As work arrangements evolve with technology, so do laws and court interpretations of what constitutes a “work-related injury.” An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help determine whether the injury must be reported as a workers’ compensation injury. The laws in this area change as technology changes. For example, in Wright v. Alltech (March 19, 2019) the worker had a fixed location and set work hours, but was involved in an auto accident on his way home from work, shortly after ending a phone call with his boss. In that case, because the worker ended his phone call and went to Target before getting back in the car and wrecking, the court found the work conversation was done and that workers’ compensation did not apply. However, this case, and others like it, raise interesting questions about accidents occurring during multi-tasking commutes.
The 21st century work environment presents new workers’ compensation questions issues. If you work in a non-traditional workplace or work flexible hours and suffered an injury, contact an attorney at Ricci Law Firm for a consultation.