According to a recent Global Analytics poll, 88% of the nearly 2600 respondents indicated they were working from home on a regular basis during the recent covid19 pandemic. Of the respondents, only 31% were able to work from home on a regular basis prior to the pandemic. 76% of the respondents anticipate having the ability to work from home at least one day per week after the pandemic is over, with the median being 2 days per week.
Many companies such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook et al have extended the fulltime work at home until at least Oct 2020, and some will wait until 2021 before integrating staff back into the office.
With all this work from home, it becomes even more imperative for companies to ensure both the short-term and long-term health and safety of their employees. The ergonomics of the workspace become even more important as worker’s comp liability falls upon the employer in the majority of claims.
Legal precedent has been established that as long as the employee is furthering the business of the employer, the employee will be covered in the event of a worker’s compensation claim. There has been further legal precedent that the employee will be covered while getting a drink or using the bathroom during the workday under a “personal comfort” stipulation.
But if the employee trips on a curb while walking their dog during the workday, that would not be covered, and the burden of proof falls on the employer. Unfortunately, there is no video at the employee’s home to help prove the causative factor, much like there may be in the place of business.
What can an employer do to minimize their risk of liability for Work From Home Employees?
Create a telecommuting formal policy and review with the employee
A telecommuting policy details for both the employer and the employee the requirements and expectations of each in this arrangement.
A typical telecommuting policy will include considerations such as:
- Work hours.
- Equipment used.
- Time management.
- Reporting or milestones.
- Designated work area.
- Proof of presence in the work area.
Have a remote ergonomic assessment performed
Hire a consultant to do a workspace assessment of the employee’s workspace (though not currently required by OSHA) and evaluate the employee’s risk of both long term and short term injury potential. Optionally, employees can do ergonomic self-assessments using one of several third-party software programs.
Provide proven ergonomic equipment or an allowance for equipment.
Based on the feedback provided by the ergo consultant (above), provide a means for the employee to secure the necessary equipment and accessories to create their own ergonomically correct workspace. Many employees will simply try to re-create their workstations from the office on a smaller scale. Some employers have actually allowed employees back into the office temporarily to pick up their office chair, monitors and keyboard/mouse combo and bring them home.
Provide for the installation of said equipment (so the employee is not at risk of injury)
If the assembly and installation of office furniture cause injury to an employee, the employer is liable if the equipment was directly provided by the employer. Hire a vetted contractor to do the home installation.
Utilize an office telematics program to ensure proper ergonomic posture and frequent movement.
Office Telematics systems that have been integrated into sit-stand desks for the monitoring of their vertical position and occupancy. From this data, you can gather information about how often an individual is changing postures as well as the positions the desks are in when the user is sitting and standing. By providing this insight into their ergonomics, a corporate entity could mitigate risk with push emails and gentle nudging
Utilize office telematics to substantiate employee’s presence in the event a claim is submitted.
Telematics systems can be used to determine the times and duration of office occupancy and desk usage. This data could be used to help substantiate a claim for either party should an injury occur.