Thomas A. Robinson on Workers' Compensation and the Telecommuter: Wait v. Travelers Indemnity Co.

In 2006, approximately 34 million American workers telecommuted to some degree.  In a recent Wall Street Journal article, it was reported that at Safeco, a Seattle-based insurer, some 1,500 of its 7,000 employees now work away from corporate offices.  Large numbers of employees at IBM, UnitedHealth Group and other corporations now “commute” not from their residence to the company’s home office, but from the kitchen to an office or specially designated work zone within the home.  Issues arise as to the compensability of injuries sustained by employees in these home-based offices.  Is the employer—who, after all, has little control over conditions within an employee’s residence—nevertheless responsible for workers’ compensation benefits along the same basis as if the employee were injured on the company’s premises?  The answer is mixed. 

 In a recent case of first impression from Tennessee, Wait v. Travelers Indemnity Co., 2007 Tenn. LEXIS 1033 (November 16, 2007), a home-based employee attacked and severely beaten by an intruder was denied compensation on the basis that her injuries did not arise out of her employment. 

This expert commentary written by Thomas A. Robinsion analyzes the case, discusses relevant issues related to workers’ compensation and the telecommuter, and observes that the Tennessee decision should not be negatively viewed by the claimant’s bar.  According to the author, the state court’s reasoning actually shows a judicial temperament toward treating home-based and company premises-based employees on equal footing. The author also cautions the practitioner to differentiate between true telecommuter situations and those that merely fall within the category of “hearthside” activities. 

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