By Lee Yarborough, President | Propel HR
Samantha, a company’s data analyst, works from home. She has been a valuable member of her company for years but recently asked to work from home when her husband’s job moved out of town. It has been a win-win for everyone, the company is able to retain a valuable employee and Samantha is able to keep a job she loves while maintaining a work-life balance.
Her home office is set up in her basement and her work day is 8:30 to 5:00. While working one day, she walks upstairs to her kitchen to get a cup of coffee. She returns within minutes but has a terrifying fall down her stairs and breaks her shoulder. While waiting for EMS to arrive at her home, Samantha calls her HR department to inform them that she has had a workers’ compensation accident.
More people than ever work remotely. Telecommuting has many benefits for employees including higher morale, flexible hours, and work- life balance. For employers, it can be a wonderful way to retain top talent. The number of people working from home has dramatically increased over the years, but there are still unknowns when it comes to handling certain aspects of human resources and remote employees. Workers’ compensation coverage is one area that can certainly be confusing.
I imagine when Samantha called her office about the fall, the HR department did not quite know what to do. She had fallen in her house and the company can’t control how safe her house is. For all HR knew, there could have been toys or items on her stairs which contributed to the fall. Plus, Samantha wasn’t even working when she had the fall, she had left her office to get coffee. But, just to be safe, HR filed a claim with the workers’ comp company.
Most workers’ compensation policies are based on state laws, but generally injuries that “arise out of or in the course of employment” are compensable. Most states acknowledge that minor detours at work are normal. Just like in a corporate office, employees get up from their desks to get coffee or grab a snack, remote workers do the same. If Samantha left her home office to pick up a child from school, that would be considered a major detour and not a part of her normal work day. An accident on the drive to or from the school would not be compensable, but an accident on her walk to the kitchen for some coffee would most likely be covered.
How does a company reduce its liability when it comes to the safety of a remote worker?
- Create a telecommuting policy. Clearly define the work expectations, work hours, and reporting guidelines. Address equipment needs and confidentiality standards.
- Establish guidelines for a home office. Remote workers should be required to have a designated workspace that is safe, secure, and up to OSHA standards. To ensure that standards are met, employers may request a photo of the work area.
- Carefully determine which employees are eligible for telecommuting. Not everyone is a candidate to work from home. It depends on the job as well as the individual. Even a star employee may not be able to successfully work from home due to distractions or feelings of isolation. Strategically work with any employee considered for telecommuting to ensure success.
Samantha’s shoulder surgery was covered by workers’ comp insurance. Her HR department worked with her and the insurance company during the healing process and helped get her back to work as soon as possible. She moved her office to another room in her house to avoid future accidents and continued to be a valuable employee. In the end, the company’s HR department worked on new policies for remote workers and established guidelines for success. The company to this day continues to use telecommuting as a valuable talent retention tool, but it is now more deliberate in the process. It is a win-win for everyone.
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