Work-from-Home: Workers’ Compensation Exposures
While the country continues to practice social distancing, many employers have transitioned to having their employees work from home. Working from home comes with many new challenges for employers, including accepting that they no longer have direct control over their employees’ remote workspaces. However, even in this unique situation, it is still the responsibility of the employer to provide employees with a safe work environment.
BEST PRACTICES FOR A REMOTE WORKFORCE
One of the best ways for employers to minimize risks associated with employees who work from home is to find ways to prevent common office injuries. This often involves providing guidance to remote employees on how to set up and maintain a healthy and safe work environment in their home workspace, but should also include the development of processes and policies that limit hazards.
Developing a work-from-home policy that outlines expectations for remote employees
- Define normal working hours and create specific time-frames around business-related work activity
- Detail job duty expectations in writing
- Establish standards for a home-based office set-up or require a designated in home work area
- Train employees on workstation set-up, ergonomics, safety and home-based hazard recognition
- Require employees to complete an initial safety & ergonomic assessment of workspace
- Remind employees to report safety concerns or issues as soon as possible to Supervisor/HR
- Check-in with employees on a regular basis to ensure safety procedures are being followed
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION EXPOSURES
Employers can face exposures for workers’ compensation injuries even though they do not control the remote workspaces of their employees. A simple accident such as tripping over a rug in the hallway or slipping down the stairs while working at home could result in a workers’ compensation injury claim.
The top causes of home-based work-related injuries are slips, trips, falls, and sprains/strain injuries from repetitive motion, poor postures, and ergonomics.
Social distancing efforts necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic remain common, and during this time there is the potential for employers to see an increase in employees who report injuries that occurred while working from home. As with every workers’ compensation injury, these types of claims will be very fact-specific, so it is essential that the facts of each injury be obtained and investigated in a timely and thorough manner.
The remote employee has the burden of proof in providing evidence that an injury is work-related, meaning they have to show that they were acting in the interest of the employer at the time the injury occurred. Since working from home provides many opportunities to blend work-related activities with personal tasks, the primary question that comes up in these situations is whether the injury arose out of and in the course of employment.
This is especially the case when an employee is injured while performing a “personal comfort” activity such as using the bathroom, taking a smoking break, or grabbing a cup of coffee.
In general, an employee injury during normal working hours while performing work activities will be deemed compensable under workers’ compensation if it “arises out of” and “in the course of” employment, regardless of whether the injury occurs at the corporate office location or at an employee’s remote home-based work environment.
Defining the Terms
“Arising out of” Employment
An injury arises out of employment when there is a causal connection between the injury and employment activity being performed. The employee must be acting in the interest of the employer at the time the injury occurs. Injuries caused by an increased risk to the employee than that to which the public is exposed.
“In the course of” Employment
If an injury takes place during employment, at a place where the employee reasonably may be and while the employee is performing work duties or an activity incidental to employment.
Personal Comfort Doctrine
Many states allow employees to be compensated by workers’ compensation for injuries that occur on short, comfort-related breaks from work and for personal convenience tasks such as trips to the bathroom, getting a cup of coffee, taking a smoke break, or grabbing a snack.
On the other hand, injuries sustained while remote employees take breaks to do household chores, or provide schooling or childcare would not typically be found compensable under workers’ compensation, because the injuries were sustained while performing activities normally performed as a homeowner or household resident.
What can employers do to minimize their potential exposure for workers’ compensation?
- Affirm the obligation of the employee to keep home-based work areas free of hazards
- Conduct a safety checklist review with photos of the home-based work area
- Reserve the right to conduct safety check-ins to inspect home-work environments
- Require the employees to allow and cooperate in any post-injury investigations.
- Remind employees of their obligation to report all work injuries promptly
- Document the injury in a complete manner
- Allow access to the employer for any reasonable post-injury investigation.
- Thoroughly investigate all reported injuries
ERGONOMIC WORK STATION CHECKLIST
Many employers have shifted their employees to a work-from-home environment, which may create an increase in employees who report injuries that occurred while working from home. Employers would be well-served to review their work-from-home policies to ensure workspace guidelines are outlined, in addition to providing their employees with helpful resources for remaining safe at home. Employers should also be aware of the fact-based nature of work-from-home workers’ compensation claims and be prepared to document injuries and participate in investigations in a timely and thorough manner.
If you have questions or concerns about how workers’ compensation claims may be affected by employees working from home, please contact your M3 Account Team.