Telecommuting and Workers’ Compensation: Issues to Consider
Working from home can create new problems for HR departments dealing with workers’ compensation claims. Many who work from home do so on laptops and mobile devices, which can lead to postural problems and potential strains. Relying on a laptop at the kitchen table isn’t ergonomically the same as a desk chair and work surface with a properly aligned monitor. Worse, iPads and laptops used outside of the home may also cause neck strain. More severely, a laptop generates heat and may not have the same ventilation that a CPU or thin client has in a work environment potentially causing burns.
Working from home may also seem ideal to an employee in the reduction in interruptions. However, those interruptions can serve important breaks in an employee’s routine. Extended hours of sitting in the same position can cause muscle and joint issues.
Employees who telecommute, either at the urging of their employers, or to create more flexibility to meet family demands, may be working in the “course and duty” of their employer. That could mean that an injury sustained working at home might be covered under the employer’s workers’ compensation coverage.
Defending work from home workers’ compensation cases can be difficult. Telecommuting claims often have no witnesses and involve unsupervised employees.
Employers should, of course, vet which employees are suitable for telecommuting. This is the first step in reducing the risk of potential worker’s compensation claims.
Sample telecommuting or work from home policies are available from the Society for Human Resource Management and can be found here: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/wcandtelecommuting.aspx .
Additionally, employers may want to consider the following in constructing a work from home policy and procedure.
- Monitor the use of mobile devices from an ergonomic perspective to reduce potential injury.
- Remind workers about home use versus computer use and safe surfaces, including decluttering workspace to allow for proper ventilation.
- Encourage workers who work from home regularly to use a separate mouse and keyboard with their laptops, so that the screen can be placed at an appropriate level and the hands can have a break from potential carpel tunnel inducing injuries.
- Remind workers to take breaks throughout the day and encourage the use of reminders and mobile apps to break up the day.
- Remind workers that no work is to be done from the car, and especially, no work should be done on a laptop from the car, even if it is parked (at a child’s soccer game, for example).
- Document efforts to make sure employees who telecommute have an understanding of the need for an ergonomically constructed home office. This documentation includes potential training sessions, webinars and take-home materials.
- Detail which of an employee’s job duties may be done from home and which may not and ensure that information is included in the employee’s job offer or job description.
- Engage the risk management team to consider, monitor and audit how employees are working from home.
- Some elements of the telecommuting policy may be necessary in a travel policy, g., employees who may need to work from an airport or hotel room. Consider including ergonomic information in your travel policy as well.
- Ask employees to photograph their home office environments, so that your company can adjust any problem areas (if you are unable to observe the office in person) and to document the set up as a protective measure for any future litigation.
- Similarly, establish limited or focused work areas, and ensure that employees understand their work for the company should be done solely in those approved areas.
- Set fixed work hours and rest breaks for employees, so that it can be easier to determine when an injury occurred. Some employers use a time system that requires that employees clock in and out, just as they might do in an office environment.
- Similarly, issue the employee a company owned laptop and a company owned mobile device, so that work can be tracked and also to ensure the employee uses the most ergonomic, rather than economic, work devices.
- Publish your policy. Make sure that all telecommuting employees have a copy of the policy and that a copy signed by the employee is entered into their HR file.