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Workers' Compensation Considerations for Remote Employees

Posted by Shane Moran on Nov 30, 2022 11:20:52 AM

Just a few years ago, remote working was considered a luxury. However, remote work has become the standard since the pandemic and the subsequent changes in the workforce. While many companies have pushed for employees to be back in the office, there is no denying that remote work is here to stay. While it may be the preferable option for many, it also brings new challenges for employers.

Some of the main concerns for employers related to the health and safety of their home-based employees. When workers are on-site, employers have more control over their environment and are able to keep safety measures up to standard. From home, however, that ability is lacking. Remote workers are still required to be covered under employers' Workers' Compensation Policy, but the exact coverages may need to be adjusted. This article will explore potential coverage gaps for remote workers, and how to implement wellness protocols to avoid a claim.

Workers Compensation Basics

Workers' Compensation (WC) is a type of insurance coverage that covers employees who are injured or fall ill as a result of their job duties or working environment. This type of coverage is funded 100% by employers and is required by almost every state. The level of required coverage may vary from state to state, but each will have a minimum coverage limit with a penalty fee for those who fail to secure the coverage. Full-time and part-time employees are eligible for workers comp coverage in most states, while contracting 10-99 employees may not be eligible. For those eligible, coverage can include:

  • Medical bills
  • Disability payments
  • Lawyer fee’s
  • Mitigation and settlement costs

Coverage Gaps for Remote Employees

Remote employees are entitled to WC coverage, but the change in working location has brought about some questions relating to what is covered, and what isn't. Traditional working environments were more easily navigated since benefits were issued when an employee was injured at the physical location of their job. This brings us to the biggest coverage gap that needs to be addressed in the remote working world - location. Employers must now ensure that their coverage meets the standard of the state requirements for each employee’s working location. For example, if your business is based in Texas, but your employees are based in Florida, you need to have the minimum coverage requirement met for Florida regulations.

Additionally, since employers have less control over working conditions, the question that needs to be focused on now is, “was the employee ill or injured from acts arising out of and in the course of employment?” In the office, this is relatively simple to decide. At home, however, the lines get a bit more blurred. In a recent WC settlement, Verizon Pennsylvania, Inc. v. W.C.A.B. (Alston), one employee was granted coverage for an injury that occurred falling down the stairs after getting some juice. She was granted settlement by the Pennsylvania court under the “personal comfort doctrine”, which allows employees to take breaks from work without losing coverage.

On the other hand, many similar claims are denied due to small details around the injury occurrence. A Florida woman’s case, Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, 271, was recently denied settlement after tripping over her dog during working hours, due to the fact that the trip was likely solely because of her dog, and not due to work duties. Worker's Compensation claims, due to the nature of remote work, have to be handled with careful attention to detail. Since there are so many aspects of remote working that employers can’t control, setting basic guidelines for home environments can be helpful to avoid expensive claims.

Minimize Your Worker's Compensation Risk

It’s true that many factors are now beyond the control of employers, but following some basic best practices can reduce your risk significantly. Having standard safety practices in place for employees will help them integrate the practices you would follow in the office into their homes. Some things to minimize workers' compensation claims include the following:

Employees Should Have Designated Work Spaces

The number one best practice for employees would be to have a designated work space. This means instead of moving from room to room, and table to table, you can ask your employees to set up a proper workstation that they plan to work from daily. This will help define when an employee is “performing work duties” and when they are having leisure time. It will also help employees follow the upcoming safety measures, as it will only pertain to one designated space within their home.

Provide Proper Work Set Up

Employers should provide proper work equipment, like ergonomic chairs, mouses, and computer setups. Many companies opt to provide a stipend, so employees can choose from pre-approved supplies. This will aid in the creation of a true home office, and ergonomic measures can reduce the risk of workers comp claims. Proper setup will minimize postural injuries and other common computer work-related injuries like carpal tunnel. It will also help employees feel more comfortable working from a designated space. Some employers opt to do a quick safety check of their employee's home offices once they have completed the setup.

Provide a Safety Checklist

You can provide your employees with a checklist of things to consider for their home setup. Some top suggestions to include are:

  • Are floors clear from hazards like chords and loose rugs?
  • Are wires properly stored on the wall or under the desk?
  • Is there a working smoke detector in the working space?
  • Do any staircases with 4 or more steps have a handrail?
  • Are radiators or portable heaters stored away from flammable items?
  • Are office chairs and equipment set up to ergonomic standards?

Requiring that new or relocating employees confirm the checklist with you will reduce your risk of unnecessary injury and claims.

Have Set Working Hours and Duties

Having set working hours, and requiring approval to work beyond designated hours, can help define when an employee is performing duties related to their job. This can be a challenge as many remote workers enjoy the perks of flexible hours, but this can increase your claim risk and further blur the lines of when an employee is covered. Though most employees should understand the basics of their role, it may be helpful to clearly define what is and isn’t a part of their job duties. This way, in the event of claim mitigation, it will be an easier process to understand whether the claim is covered or not.

Now is the time to ensure your coverage meets the needs of your business, and the requirements set by each state. Proper coverage will ensure that in the event of a claim, your business does not experience severe financial, and your employees are protected.

Does Your Business Need Worker's Compensation?

With all the changes over the past few years, it can be hard to know if you're compliant with Workers' Compensation standards. If you need a risk management expert to review your program and suggest coverage changes or additions, ECBM is here to help. With extensive experience helping businesses navigate their insurance programs, our agents can improve your current program or help you secure new coverages. For more information on our services, contact one of our agents today.