Can Working From Home Cause Further Workers' Compensation Liabilities?

By Rebecca Batisto

Can Working From Home Cause Further Workers' Compensation Liabilities?

Can you ever remember a time when the government asked workers to head home?

These unprecedented changes in the face of COVID-19 are posing new challenges for all companies and employees worldwide. Businesses are being designated as “essential” or “non-essential,” while schools close, restaurants offer only carryout, and anyone who can work from home is being asked to do so for the foreseeable future.

The question you need to ask is, how is this affecting your workforce? If you’re like many of our clients, you have a mix of people who can work from home and those who need to be on-site to perform their duties. While you may have sent those who can work virtually home without much thought, there are some complexities to consider when it comes to workers’ compensation and your company’s exposure.

Regular Telework Employees

For those employees who consistently telework, they are covered by their employer’s workers’ compensation policy in most cases. With more employees working from home in general, policies have evolved to take home offices into consideration.

Typically, when an employee is designated as “work from home,” the company supplies them with necessities that may include a computer, monitor, some office supplies, and even furniture. These actions help to establish a person’s workplace and, therefore, define their office environment.

Still, proving an accident in an employee’s home is difficult. Courts have landed on either side - for and against claims - depending on the specifics of the accident. The issue is proving the injury occurred during work, even when the employee is in their own home.

There are several things employers can do to help reduce risk in home offices. Companies should define work from home policies and expectations, including what to do in case of an injury or incident. Employees should then sign off on these policies, agreeing to their part in maintaining a safe environment.

Not all employees are suitable for remote working. Companies should also carefully evaluate potential work from home employees in order to mitigate risk. Some people excel in working remotely, while others struggle to maintain expected productivity levels.

Telework In A Crisis

Sometimes, as in the case of the current COVID-19 environment, it’s not feasible to execute on all the pieces required to create the ideal work-from-home arrangements. You may have sent employees home with just a day’s notice and without a formal remote working policy. You may also be scrambling to get your employees adequately set up in their home office with the necessary technology and resources. Whatever changes you and your workforce are facing, communication is crucial.

As soon as possible, have a conversation with employees to establish policies and expectations during this time. These may include revising work hours, ensuring they have internet access, setting guidelines for remote meetings, and more. Whenever possible, follow up these conversations with email summaries, so there is a record of the conversation. Employees will need support both in adjusting to a new working environment as well as emotionally, so be prepared.

Employees who have never worked remotely will need to understand how to set up a home office, as well as what to do in case of an injury. Just as employees who were hired for a remote position, these employees who have had telework thrust upon them will be covered by your workers’ compensation coverage. It’s up to managers, supervisors, and leaders to educate these employees and establish policies as quickly as possible.

If you are leading a team of newly-remote employees, be sure to communicate more than usual. Employees can feel isolated or disconnected from the rest of their team when they are at home, rather than in the office. Set up video conferencing, encourage banter, utilize collaborative tech platforms, and encourage increased communication through work chat to keep people in the loop.

Companies should also notify their insurance provider of the physical changes to the company’s workforce. The potential for claims outside of the office is increased with employees working remotely for the first time. Your insurance provider may suggest policies to establish to support this shift in the workforce.

Normandy Insurance follows changes in working from home and other industry developments. If you have questions about workers’ compensation and coverage of employees working from home, our team is here to answer your questions and support your clients. Contact us today: www.normandyins.com/contact

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