In Germany, Injury that Occurs on Morning Commute from Bedroom to Home Office is a Work-Related Injury
Germany’s Federal Social Court ruled last week that a man who slipped on his staircase and broke his back while walking to start his day in his home office is entitled to workers’ compensation as a result of the accident.
Unlike in the United States, where commuting to and from work is not considered part of a company’s duty of care, Germany’s workers’ compensation covers injuries that happen during the morning commute. The court’s ruling notes that the incident happened on the man’s customary commute to work, “walking the stairs to the home office was only used to start work for the first time and is therefore insured as a service in the interests of the employer.” (Translated using Google web page translator.)
The slip and subsequent injury occurred in 2018, so it predates the COVID-19 pandemic and massive transformation of the workforce away from offices to the home. As a Fast Company article on the case points out, the ruling could be an important precedent because with each wave of the virus, the German government renews its calls for people who can work remotely to do so. A Gizmodo report on the ruling, however, noted the court tried to narrow its potential for precedent-setting by including that “additional factors must be considered,” such as “objective circumstances of the individual case.”
Despite a worker’s commute generally not covered in the United States, it is clear that a company’s duty of care to provide a safe workspace for employees does include home offices. It is not clear if the circumstances of the German accident would trigger a valid workers’ compensation claim in the United States.
“To successfully claim workers’ compensation benefits, the employee must show that he or she was acting in the interest of the employer at the time the injury occurred," according to an article from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) says. "Courts have found that an employer’s lack of control over the conditions of an employee’s home-based work premises is irrelevant. When an employee’s home is also an employee’s work premises, it is often interpreted that the hazards an employee encounters when performing work at home are also hazards of his or her employment. Employers are responsible for providing the same safe work environment for telecommuters as for employees who work on company property.”
The SHRM article also gives suggestions for companies to limit their workers’ compensation liability, including having a clear telework policy that establishes guideline for home offices.