Over the years, remote work has become increasingly more common. According to SmallBizGenius, the number of people who work from home has increased by 140 percent from 2005 to 2019 – and that rate has probably grown even more as a result of the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak. In fact, Global Workplace Analytics estimates that up to 30 percent of the entire workforce will work from home at least a couple times a week by the end of 2021.
While technological advances make it easier for employers to provide work-from-home privileges to employees, it does lead to a good question: How does workers’ compensation apply to employers who work from home? Whether your employees are temporarily working from home or are full-time telecommuters, it’s important to understand exactly how workers’ compensation applies to remote employees (and what you should do protect you and your workers).
Are Remote Employees Eligible for Workers’ Compensation?
Even if your employers work from home or some other remote location, they are covered under workers' compensation. Essentially, a work-related injury is compensable under workers’ compensation regardless of where the injury occurs. In general, the courts have found that hazards in a remote employee’s home also counts as a work hazard if that person completes his or her duties in that space. As such, that means that employers are still responsible for providing a safe work environment, even if that environment is not on company property.
This doesn’t mean any injury or illness suffered in a work-from-home space is considered work-related, however. In order to be eligible for workers’ compensation, a remote employee must suffer an injury or illness that “arises out of and in the course of employment,” which refers to what the employee was doing and when the injury occurred. These two details are important because remote employees must prove their injury or illness happened when they were acting in their employers’ interests instead of simply having an unrelated incident.
How Can I Limit Workers’ Compensation liability for Remote Employees?
While you can’t keep as close of an eye on employers who work from home, there are still measures you can take to limit work-related injuries and protect your business. This process begins by implementing the following work-from-home practices and safety reporting systems:
- Create an at-home work policy that outlines expectations for remote work and disseminate it to employees
- Establish guidelines for a home office, such as a designated work area, and require that employees provide evidence of this area
- Define normal working hours and specific job duties for each employee
- Provide training related to setting up an ergonomic workstation and following safety measures
- Conduct periodic home office checks to help identify and eliminate work area safety hazards when appropriate and possible
- Set fixed work hours and meal and rest periods for telecommuters to help establish whether an injury was “in the course of” employment
- Require employees to have homeowner's or renter's insurance that covers any potential equipment damage or liability (and review said insurance to ensure all contingencies are covered)
- Make it clear that computer security issues are monitored and that employees wishing to use their own computers must have safety protocols installed
It’s also important to note that states can have differing laws about what constitutes as a work-related injury. These laws can shift over time, so try and keep up to date with your state’s rules and regulations to help keep your workers safe and protect your business against improper claims.
Want to take the right steps to stay up to date on HR regulations and protect your business? Contact GMS today to talk to one of our experts about professional risk management and other key HR management services.