With many companies either hiring remote employees or allowing existing employees to work from home, the process of documenting workplace injuries is becoming more complicated.
An article I read recently described a situation in which a salesperson tripped over her dog and fractured her wrist while working from home for a major retailer. She filed – and won – a lawsuit against the employer, claiming the injury resulted from her employment and the company’s requirement to maintain a home office.
Observers of the case said that the lawsuit is a cautionary tale for companies who are operating with no official policy about safety in a remote environment. Here are a few recommendations:
- Train employees on how to set up a home office with safety in mind. Considerations include everything from ergonomic chairs to managing electrical cords and other hazards. Businesses should consider creating a safety checklist for an employee to follow and sign. Web-based safety training and virtual assessments are good tools to use.
- Update employee handbooks to include language about remote work. Companies can reduce their exposure to liability by creating written policies about how a hybrid workplace should function. These policies should address work hours and tasks, as well as injury prevention. Again, the employee should sign an acknowledgment that they’ve read the policy.
- Make sure workers‘ compensation insurance is up to date. It’s important for businesses to let their insurance carriers know how many employees are working remotely and to verify coverage.
OSHA provides further guidance on determining whether an injury that occurs remotely is work-related or not. It can get complicated, but it boils down to determining if the injury or illness occurred while the employee was officially “on the clock” and if it was directly related to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting.