Defense Digest, Vol. 27, No. 5, December 2021

Household Hazards: The Rise in Remote Work and the Implications for Florida Workers’ Compensation Claims

Key Points:

  • Work-at-home arrangements do not immunize employers from workers’ compensation claims. 
  • Compensable work-at-home accidents must arise out of work conducted during the course and scope of employment. 
  • The employer must contribute to the risk of the accident and there must be an occupational causation.

The pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home orders forced many employers to implement remote work programs for their employees. Remote work has brought many benefits for both employers and employees alike. Subsequently, several employers have implemented permanent remote work and hybrid programs for their employees. Despite the shift in the workplace environment, work-at-home arrangements do not immunize employers from workers’ compensation claims. A recent Florida appellate court en banc decision, Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, 271 So. 3d 1133 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019), held that it if the employer did not contribute to the risk of the accident resulting in injury, then Florida workers’ compensation law does not require the employer to cover the cost of the injury. En banc proceedings are rare in the Florida appellate court system as they require all of the judges of the court to review the case. Also, en banc decisions are typically reserved for cases and issues deemed exceptionally important. 

In Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, the claimant worked from home as an insurance adjuster. She sustained an injury at home during her scheduled work hours in the course of a personal comfort break. The Florida “personal comfort doctrine” provides workers’ compensations benefits to workers injured while taking a break for their personal comfort or health. In Valcourt-Williams, the claimant went to her kitchen to grab a cup of coffee, and as she reached for a coffee cup, she fell over one of her two dogs. The fall resulted in knee, hip, and shoulder injuries and a workers’ compensation claim. 

Initially, the carrier denied the claim, contending that the injuries did not arise out of employment. However, the Judge of Compensation Claims determined the injury was compensable, concluding that the work-from-home arrangement meant the employer “imported the work environment into the claimant’s home and the claimant’s home into the work environment.”

The employer/carrier appealed, and the issue on appeal was whether the claimant’s injuries were “arising out of” the employment. Particularly, whether the claimant’s employment exposed her to conditions which substantially contributed to the risk of injury. 

In Florida, employers may be held liable to provide workers’ compensation benefits when employees sustain injuries from accidents “arising out of work performed in the course and the scope of employment.” § 440.09(1), Fla. Stat. (2021). In Bryant v. David Lawrence Mental Health Ctr., 672 So. 2d 629, 631 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996), the court outlined that compensable accidents occur “in the course and the scope of employment” when they occur “in the period of employment, at a place where the employee would reasonably be, while fulfilling her duties.” In Valcourt-Williams, the parties agreed that the claimant’s injuries occurred in the course and scope of her employment: the injury was during work hours, her home was where she “would reasonably be” and her coffee break was a permissible “comfort break.” However, at issue was whether the claimant’s accident arose out of her employment.

The court defined the “arising out of” limitation by indicating that the element requires the risks which caused the claimant’s accident and resulting injuries to be work-related. Therefore, an accident is compensable only if “the employment necessarily exposed claimant to conditions that would substantially contribute to the risk of injury, and to which the claimant would not normally be exposed during his non-employment life.” Acker v. Charles R. Burklew Const., 654 So. 2d 1211, 1212 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995).

Further, the court noted that the relevant risk of the claimant tripping over her dog while reaching for a coffee cup in her kitchen exists whether the claimant is at home working or whether she is at home not working. The claimant’s employer did not contribute to the risk that she would trip over her dog. The court recognized that, regardless of the type of injury, compensability always turns on whether the employment led to the risk—whether there was “occupational causation,” § 440.02(36), Fla. Stat. The court indicated that the claimant’s dog, a feature of her non-employment life, caused the accident. Therefore, the court held that the claimant’s workers’ compensation claim was not compensable because the risk of falling over her own dog did not arise out of her employment. Notably, the court rejected the suggestion of the Pan American World Airways v. Wilmot, 492 So. 2d 1373 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986) case that injuries necessarily arise out of employment whenever the personal-comfort doctrine brings the injury within the course and scope of employment. The court in Valcourt-Williams emphasized that for any injury to be compensable, it must “arise out of” the employment; there must be, as the statute says, “occupational causation.” § 440.02(36), Fla. Stat.

The dissenting opinion from Judge Makar is significant, offering an approach to determining compensability for personal comfort cases that focuses “on the factual findings of each case to make an assessment as to whether the risk is a ‘neutral’ one the employer allowed/prohibited and the foreseeability of the risk.” Judge Makar’s dissent further indicated that the employer had control over the home environment and failed to prohibit the claimant from having her personal property, including her dogs, in the kitchen where the personal break occurred. Particularly, the dissent noted that “ordinary hazards in an employee’s home office, kitchen or bathroom that are encountered in connection with a work-related activity, such as a refreshment break, are hazards of the employment unless excluded by the employer.” As it pertains to foreseeability, the dissent indicated the employer could reasonably foresee that “employees have dogs and other pets in their homes with their attendant benefits and risks.” This dissent is consequential as it indicates language that may be used in future decisions.

In summation, prior to accepting compensability for a Florida work-from-home workers’ compensation claim, the employer/carrier should determine whether the remote-work accident and ensuing injury arose out the claimant’s employment. The court noted that employers are not absolved from compensable workers’ compensation claims for work-at-home accidents. If a claimant sustained a work-at-home accident during a personal comfort break due to a trip over his or her employer-provided computer cord, such a claim could produce a different outcome than that in Valcourt-Williams. Compensability of work-at-home accidents during personal comfort breaks are very fact specific. Accordingly, to limit compensable workers’ compensation claims, employers should be mindful of the conditions that their remote employees are exposed to that could substantially contribute to the risk of injury. 

*Katelynne is an associate in our Jacksonville, Florida, office. She can be reached at 904.358.4204 or


Defense Digest, Vol. 27, No. 5, December 2021 is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2021 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact