Telecommuting (Working From Home)


Technological developments beginning in the 20th century have had a dramatic impact on the workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a further dramatic shift as many employees transitioned to working from home or from locations apart from the traditional office. Before COVID-19, work was synonymous with the office. At the start of the pandemic, working in close proximity to one another was no longer an option. As a result, many companies had to adapt and made the switch to telecommuting as a temporary solution.

According to Pew Research, this transition was relatively easy. Many employers found that productivity and job satisfaction improved with telecommuting. Plus, due to advancements in technology, employees were able to have everything they needed to do their job while working from home. According to the same source, before the pandemic, only about 20% of employees worked from home. By the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, telecommuting became the norm for more than 65% of U.S. work staff.

Before proceeding, it is beneficial to distinguish between telecommuting and remote work. While the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between the two work arrangements. Telecommuting is when an employee usually works off-site for a company that has a brick-and-mortar office. In some instances, employees might be in the office one or two days a week, which means they are generally located close by. Remote work is a flexible work arrangement. These employees can work from remote locations anywhere in the world. They can permanently work off-site for a company that doesn’t need to have a physical location.

Telecommuting is suitable for certain workers based on the nature of their work. Employees who work in a customer-facing role, such as sales associates in a retail setting, often don’t have the option of telecommuting. They need to be present to interact with customers daily. At the same time, other roles are ideal for telecommuting. These include computer programming, content writing, account management and so forth. It is important to recognize that most of these jobs are non-hazardous occupations where incidents of workplace injuries are minimal.

While the closing of offices and workspaces prompted the shift to telecommuting, there were also repercussions that arose as a result. While the first few weeks and months of the transition were often chaotic, over time, many of these obstacles were overcome and both the pros and cons of telecommuting began to surface.


  • With greater autonomy and a flexible work schedule, telecommuting increases employee happiness and employee retention. An annual report published by Owl Labs reveals that people are 24% more likely to be happy when they work remotely at least once a month. In another report, Owl Labs also found that companies that embrace telecommuting see a 25% decrease in employee turnover.
  • Ninety percent of employers report that productivity is the same or better when employees telecommute. An increase in productivity can be attributed to spending less time in meetings and having fewer distractions at home. Plus, because employees don’t have to commute to the office, telecommuting can reduce absenteeism. This will help contribute to productivity.
  • The added flexibility and time saved working from home improves employees’ work-life balance. Remote employees save an average of 40 minutes daily from commuting. By getting this time “back,” workers have more freedom to focus on their well-being, family or self-care.


  • There is the feeling of isolation that may come from telecommuting. Even though working from the comfort of one’s home may seem like an ideal work environment, it can also get lonely. The inability to interact with management regularly can make one feel like they are missing opportunities for recognition and advancement.
  • Similar to the feeling of isolation is the sense that you may no longer be part of the team. While Zoom meetings may serve to maintain intermittent contact, nothing takes the place of physical day-to-day interactions.
  • For many, it is hard to know when to put down your laptop and call it a day. Many employees feel the pressure of always being “on” when they’re not in the office. Not knowing when to unplug and always working beyond the typical office day can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout.
  • Non-work distractions are another downside of telecommuting. Whether it’s a noisy family member, a noisy neighborhood or a needy furry companion, working from home may not be quite as relaxing as it sounds.


Generally, there are two criteria that must be met in order for an injury to be compensable under workers’ compensation. In the first place, the injury must “arise out of the employment.” The term “arise out of” is associated with what the employee was actually doing at the time that he or she sustained the injury. The employee must have been acting in the employer’s interest at the time that the injury occurred. If the employee was performing a work-related task, the injury is typically compensable. If the employee was performing a personal task, the injury is usually not compensable.

A second requirement for workers’ compensation coverage is that the injury must be in the “course of the employment.” In the course of employment refers to the timing of the injury. If the injury takes place during employment, at a place where the employee reasonably may be and while the employee is performing work duties, the injury is usually found to be within the course of employment and compensable.

For telecommuters, injuries may arise while they are working at home or in some other designated area. While COVID-19 may be a risk, it is generally seen as a condition that is common to the general public and thus not considered to have arisen out of the employment.

There are still times when such distinctions as “arising out of” and “in the course of” employment are present. For example, when a telecommuting employee is injured while answering the phone or sustains a fall when he or she steps away to get a cup of coffee. When there are instances that involve both professional and personal factors, there may be greater controversy in the case. The concept that an injury should be considered to arise out of employment if conditions of employment put the individual in a position that he or she would be injured by a neutral risk is developing increased acceptance. Several courts have found that employment only needs to contribute to the injury in order to be compensable.

Decisions rendered in response to at-home injuries are especially fact dependent and frequently rely upon the credibility of the witnesses. Although travel between an employer’s premises and an employee’s at-home office may be compensable, the existence of a home office by itself does not create a presumption of coverage under the workers’ compensation act. Courts will normally examine all facts and circumstances before determining compensability.

An early case involving a telecommuter took place in Utah, where a district sales manager for a parts manufacturer had been authorized to use his residence as his base of operations for work. In expectation of a package delivery, the district manager began spreading salt on his driveway to ensure safety for the postal worker delivering the package. The worker fell in his driveway, sustaining a neck injury resulting in quadriplegia. The court awarded benefits, finding that the injury “arose from a risk associated with the work for the employer due to the parties’ … work at home arrangement.” His act of salting the driveway was motivated in part to benefit the employer and thus was reasonable incidental rather than tangentially related to the employment (reference 1).

In a Pennsylvania case, the worker was a system engineer who worked at home certain days a week. After retrieving a beverage from the refrigerator, she fell down stairs and injured her back. The court found for the claimant, holding that the worker was on a personal comfort break and that she had not abandoned her employment by going upstairs to get a glass of juice (reference 2).

In a Tennessee case where compensation benefits were denied, the worker was employed as an executive for the American Cancer Society. While working at home, the employer supplied office equipment and a phone. On the day in question, while in her kitchen, the worker answered the door and a neighbor, with whom she had a passing acquaintance, entered on a pretext and, without provocation, brutally assaulted the worker (reference 3).

The court did find that the claim arose “out of the employment,” but did not arise in the “course of the employment.” The court considered the victim’s assault injury to arise out of a neutral risk, that is, one neither directly related to the work covered nor exclusively personal. Under Tennessee law, an injury in such circumstances is not compensable.

In an Oregon case, a worker was employed by J.C. Penney as a custom decorator. She worked one day a week at the office main location and the remainder of time either at home or traveling to appointments. On the day in question, while moving work items from her garage to her van, she tripped over her dog and broke her leg. Benefits were awarded, with the court finding that the employer had made the worker’s home an extension of its premises and thus had altered the “arising out of the employment” requirement (reference 4).

As telecommuting continues to be found in the workplace, the question arises as to what the employer may do to minimize risks associated with the employee who works from home. The following steps will put the employer not only in a better position to effectively manage an off-site telecommuting employee but to also defend workers’ compensation claims stemming from this workplace exposure.

  1. Set Defined Work Hours. A written job description should set forth the location and hours the employee is to be working, including when breaks, such as lunch, will be taken.
  2. Establish Specific Work Areas. In that same job description, the company should specify the location in the home in which the employee will perform his or her work duties. A well-defined work area with the appropriate office equipment is essential. It may be a good idea for the employer to also perform a safety inspection of the work area to eliminate any hazards.
  3. Detail in Writing Employee’s Job Duties. In the written job description, detail the job duties required of the telecommuter. Be specific about which activities are and are not allowed.
  4. Monitor Your Telecommuter’s Work Activities. Provide the telecommuter with a work computer and a work cell phone. This way his or her activities can be monitored and tracked by the company if a question arises about work-related activity at the time of the injury. Log-on and off times are also appropriate.
  5. Communicate Your Telecommuting Policy. Companies should establish a policy which applies to telecommuting with language in the employee handbook stating that the telecommuting employees are subject to and must comply with all procedures and policies that apply to all company employees.
  6. Investigate Reported Work-Related Injuries Promptly and Thoroughly. If a telecommuting employee reports a work-related injury, a thorough investigation needs to be conducted as to the credibility and causal connection to job duties. Medical reports are needed to verify the connection with the first report of an injury.

Today, despite the transition back into the office, more than half of employees say that they would like to continue telecommuting. As many organizations continue to offer flexible work options, one thing is certain: Whether telecommuting is a suitable working relationship depends on the nature of the work. Employees that work in a customer-facing role, such as sales associates in a retail setting, often don’t have the option of telecommuting. However, there are many occupations where telecommuting can work well, and both employers and workers may benefit from that type of relationship.


1. Ae Clevite, Inc. v. Labor Comm’n, 996 P. 2d 1072 (2000)
2. Verizon Pennsylvania Inc. v. WCAB A 2d440 (Pa. Coomw. 2006)
3. Wait V. Travelers Indemnity Co. of Illinois 240 S.W. 3d 220 (Tenn. 2007)
4. Sandberg v. J.C. Penney Co. 260 p 3d (Oregon Ct. App. 20011)
donald t. decarlo

Donald T. DeCarlo is the principal of an independent law firm in Fresh Meadows, NY, which focuses on mediation/arbitration and regulatory and insurance counseling. Before establishing the firm in 2005, Mr. DeCarlo was a Partner at Lord Bissell & Brook LLP and headed its New York office. Formerly, he was senior vice president and general counsel of The Travelers Insurance Companies, deputy general counsel for its parent corporation Travelers Group, Inc. and executive vice president and general counsel for Gulf Insurance Group; and served as general counsel for the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) for 14 years.

Mr. DeCarlo is a Certified ARIAS-US Arbitrator and Umpire, a Master Arbitrator for the NYS Insurance Department, and an Arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association. Mr. DeCarlo is also the founder, and emeritus board member of The American Society of Workers Comp Professionals, Inc. (AMCOMP). In addition, he is a director of 17 insurance companies, and a director of DeSales Media.

Mr. DeCarlo has authored numerous scholarly articles in legal and trade journals and is a co-author of three books on workers’ compensation insurance, Workers Compensation Insurance & Law Practice—The Next Generation; Workers Compensation the First One Hundred Years; and Stress in the American Workplace—Alternatives for the Working Wounded.

Mr. DeCarlo chairs an Advisory Committee of the World Trade Center Captive Insurance Company and formerly served as chairman and commissioner of the New York State Insurance Fund (NYSIF) for 10 years. He also served as an inspector for the NYS Athletic Commission. Mr. DeCarlo is a professor at St. John’s Tobin School of Business, where he teaches Workers’ Compensation Law & Insurance, formerly The College of Insurance.


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