Are Remote Workers Covered by L&I in Washington State?

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The significant shift to remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic produced a permanent increase in the number of remote workers in Washington State. A resulting legal issue concerns L&I (workers’ compensation) coverage of on-the-job injuries and occupational diseases (repetitive injuries) for remote workers. In this discussion, the workers’ compensation lawyers at Robinson & Kole explain the laws and challenges that apply to determining whether a remote worker is covered by L&I.

L&I Coverage for Remote Workers

In Washington State, the same criteria for determining L&I eligibility that apply to other workers also apply to remote workers. In addition to demonstrating that an injury meets the requirements of an on-the job injury or an occupational disease/repetitive injury, which have different legal standards, a remote worker faces special challenges in making an L&I claim, which include addressing issues relating to whether the injury occurred in the course of employment, and whether the worker fits one of the independent contractor exemptions in the laws.

The unique nature of remote work creates equally unique issues in establishing entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits for remote workers. If you have a claim for an on-the job injury or occupational disease that occurred while you were working remotely, getting assistance from a knowledgeable L&I attorney is strongly recommended.

Course-of-Employment Requirement

Regardless of the type of L&I claim, a work injury must occur during the course of employment to qualify for benefits. In many cases, a remote employee is covered by L&I as long as the worker can show that the injury was work-related.

The course-of-employment requirement is factually based. Whether it is met depends on all the facts and circumstances surrounding the injury. Workers who perform their jobs at the employer’s place of business and receive an injury at that location often have independent corroboration that the injury occurred during the course of employment, such as workplace witnesses. In contrast, an employee working at home may not have witnesses or other evidence to confirm how and when the injury occurred. That fact provides the employer with an opening to dispute the claim on the basis that it was not work-related.

Multiple considerations enter into determining whether an injury occurred during the course of employment. Social, recreational, and athletic activities are often not considered to be work-related . However, the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals has recognized that personal comfort activities, such as taking a break, getting a drink, or using the restroom, are not excluded from L&I coverage.

A remote work injury case may involve questions relating to whether the worker had abandoned their job duties when the injury occurred. If abandonment can be demonstrated, L&I benefits are not available. Problems may also arise if a task (like an errand or trip) serves concurrent business and personal purposes. The dual-purpose doctrine provides that an employee injured during an activity that serves both work and non-work purposes may be covered by L&I.

Independent Contractor Exemptions for L&I

Washington State laws provide workers’ compensation for all workers in the state, unless the worker meets L&I’s exemption definitions for an independent contractor. As such, a remote worker cannot receive L&I benefits if they meet one of the exemptions stated in the law. The status of a worker depends on the facts of each individual case.

The terminology used by an employer to describe a worker is not conclusive concerning whether the worker is an independent contractor. In addition, remote workers are not automatically exempt from L& I simply because they do not work at the employer’s place of business.

The independent contractor exemptions include specific tests that apply to making the determination of eligibility for L&I. The nature of a remote worker’s responsibilities and the control exercised by the employer often determine whether the worker falls within the independent contractor exemptions. If a remote worker suffers a work injury, an employer may try to dispute the claim on the basis that the worker is an independent contractor who is not covered.

Legal Representation for Injured Remote Workers

A remote worker who qualifies for L&I receives benefits including medical treatment, lost wages, and more. While legal counsel is not necessary to file an L&I claim, a worker may choose to have legal representation throughout the process. Because of the complex challenges inherent in workers’ compensation claims for remote workers, consulting with an experienced lawyer is advisable for a remote worker who has an L&I claim.

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Washington L&I Attorney

From our office in Bellingham, the Robinson & Kole workers’ compensation attorneys help clients throughout the State of Washington, including remote workers. Our lawyers also help injured workers with third-party personal injury claims. If you suffered an on-the-job injury or occupational disease/repetitive injury, we welcome you to contact us for a free consultation by calling 800.640.5616 or using our online contact form. Se habla Español.