The growing popularity of telecommuting has created new risk-management challenges for employers. When an employee gets injured while working at home or in another place, questions invariably arise about whether the injury was covered by the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Employers should address this risk in both policy and practice. Telecommuting employees raise a number of important issues that an employer’s policies need to address:
The scope of employment.
A basic requirement for an injury to be covered by workers’ compensation is whether it arises out of or in the course of employment. When an employee is working off site, the division between work and personal time can be a source of significant dispute between the employer, the employee, and the insurer.
By clearly defining the employee’s job, an employer can limit its responsibility for injuries that occur while the employee is doing something that is not work-related. This principle is especially important for a staffing firm, which may need to change the scope of an employee’s job numerous times over the course of a year.
The place of work.
One of the key risk management problems of telecommuting is that employers rarely have control over the locations where remote employees work. Whether an employee telecommutes from a home office or a coffee shop, the employer likely can’t send its safety manager out to confirm the absence of work hazards like bad ergonomics or fall risks. But an employer can take numerous steps to improve the safety of a remote employee’s workplace, beginning with restrictions on where employees are allowed to work.
In some circumstances, it may be appropriate to ask employees to provide a photograph of their home office, so the safety manager can provide at least a long-distance review for hazards. Employees might also be asked to verify that necessary safety equipment, like fire extinguishers, is present. They may also be asked to confirm that they will not be exposed to electrical, chemical, or biological (mold) hazards. If the employer decides that the employee’s home presents too much of a danger, the employee may need to be asked to work somewhere else.
Another way to limit, or at least help to define, the “scope of employment” is to provide clear rules on when an employee should be working. Specifying starting and ending times, as well as break times, helps to limit the employer’s exposure to injuries that occur outside of those times.
Gunnin Insurance helps temporary staffing firms thrive.
Gunnin is committed to serving clients in the temporary staffing industry. Our team of dedicated professionals can help your business examine its telecommuting risk management practices and improve the financial performance of its workers’ compensation program. Reach out to us today to learn more.