In light of current circumstances, millions of people across the globe are now working from home. For employers, this raises a very important question: What happens when employees working from home suffer an injury?
Any injury that “arises out of and in the course of employment,” regardless of whether the employee is at the office or at home, is covered under workers’ compensation. If what the employee was doing at the time of the injury was related to work during designated working hours, then the injury is likely compensable.
Workers’ compensation coverage takes into consideration that an injury may occur suddenly or develop over time. In either case, the employee must prove that the injury was related to work. As telecommuters often work alone in their home, it is sometimes difficult to verify what happened and why. Having clear expectations in place and performing regular check-ins can help provide some clarity in these instances.
As an employer working in the remote environment, you have significantly less control over the conditions of your employees’ home-based workspaces. However, it still falls on your shoulders to ensure that home offices are safe work environments. There are a few ways that you can approach this.
First, design a remote working policy that explains in depth your expectations for telecommuters. Review it with your team and have them sign an acknowledgment of the conditions before they begin working from their home office space.
Fixed work, meal, and rest hours should remain in place. Although it is tempting to let your team have more relaxed hours in the remote workspace, restrictions will keep the scope of employment limited and work in your favor should a claim arise.
Prior to moving into the work-from-home environment, be sure that you’ve clearly defined each employee’s scope of work. A concise job description will be helpful should you need to assess whether or not an injury fits the definition of “work-related” for compensation purposes.
Activities that fall outside of the employee’s job description, although inconvenient, are not your responsibility as an employer.
Be sure to make yourself aware of risk factors—such as stairs—surrounding the workspace and have procedures in place to keep the environment as safe as possible during working hours. Outline the equipment that is required for use in the home office in the employee’s job description to prevent unnecessary injuries.
You may also consider providing training for your team on workstation setup, safety measures, and proper ergonomics (to prevent long-term injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome).
If you have employees working outside of your state of operation, be advised that most states require employers to obtain workers’ compensation insurance in the state where services are being performed by the employee. Failure to comply creates potential for liability and penalties.
Because state laws differ regarding what’s considered a “work-related injury,” it’s important to define each employee’s normal working hours and specific job duties to help determine what is and is not a work-related claim. A Nesbit Insurance agent can help guide you through a basic assessment if you are unsure and provide you with some helpful tips for compliance.