Checklist to Reduce Liability Risks for Employees Working from Home

Checklist to Reduce Liability Risks for Employees Working from Home

The coronavirus pandemic has facilitated a huge shift in where people work. Both employers and employees are seeing the benefits of working remotely. What was a temporary solution in 2020 has fast-tracked to become an anticipated benefit for employment in many industries. As a result, it’s important for businesses to examine the liability risks involved in remote workstations so that both you and your employee are protected.

In October of 2020 the American Trends Panel of Pew Research interviewed 10,332 American workers who were then working at home. They discovered that of workers whose job duties could be performed at home, only 20% did any at-home work before the pandemic, but 71% were working at home after the pandemic. The survey also revealed that 54% of workers whose work can be done remotely hoped to continue working at home after the pandemic is over.

How does working at home affect productivity? These figures are the result of interviews with workers, not with managers, but they are telling:

  • 87% said they had no difficulties obtaining the technology they needed to do their jobs.
  • 80% said they had no difficulties completing projects on time.
  • 77% said they had adequate workspace.
  • 68% said they were able to get their work done without interruptions.
  • And 64% said they had trouble staying motivated to work instead of doing other things. Generally speaking, the younger the worker, the harder time they have staying motivated. Only 20% of workers 50 and older reported having trouble with get up and go, but a strong majority of those aged 18 to 49 did.

Your employee benefits package, of course, is a strong motivator for keeping workers focused on their jobs. You know the importance of insurance to your employees to keep them on the job. But what about the insurance your company needs for the hazards of having employees work at home?

Here are some employer liabilities for at-home workers you may not have considered. It's not a very long checklist. There are just two items. But these two hazards can have a huge impact on your company.

Telecommuters are covered under worker compensation, too.

An employee's illness or injury "arising out of" or "occurring in the course" of work activities is covered by worker compensation, even if it arises out of or occurs in the course of work done at home. The courts have found that the fact that you don't control the conditions of your employee's home is irrelevant. Your company is responsible for providing a safe work environment no matter where your employee works.

What kinds of worker compensation claims can teleworkers make?

Here are some examples of worker compensation claims that can come up with telecommuters.

  • Your worker suffers a back injury while lifting a box of documents.
  • Your worker develops carpal tunnel syndrome after doing months of data entry tasks.
  • Your worker spends most of the day at a computer in an upstairs office but goes downstairs to make a cup of coffee for a coffee break. On the stairs your worker takes a spill and breaks a vertebra, requiring surgery. You and your insurance company can be held liable for the injury.

If that makes you do a double take, consider how the courts could assess this situation. Your worker was at work immediately before taking a prescribed break. Your worker had a reasonable expectation of being able to have a cup of coffee on break. Your worker wasn't doing anything unusually hazardous and intended to return to work immediately after the break. There is a high probability that a court would find you and your insurance company liable for worker comp in this situation.

To prevent worker compensation claims from at-home workers

  • Have a telecommuting policy that sets expectations for employees working at home. Include your expectations for safety. Put the policy in writing.
  • Clearly define working hours and break times. This helps you determine whether an injury was "in the course of" employment. You don't want to be liable for a claim when your employee stubs a toe going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Set rules for home office safety. Get your employees to sign off on a statement that their home office will meet reasonable safety standards. Then do an at-home inspection to make sure it does. Take photos.
  • When accidents do occur, make a careful investigation of what your employee was doing immediately before and after the accident and how the accident happened. 

Cybersecurity and Employer Liability for Teleworkers

The other area of risk for companies that permit teleworking is cybersecurity. Your company is liable for keeping sensitive data about your vendors and clients secure. You don't want a hack attack revealing surety bond details, credit reports, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and tax IDs not only of your own company but also of your business contacts, who could have legal recourse against you.

It's best to issue computers for home use with the expectation that they will be used strictly for business purposes. But if you can't do that, at least make sure that your employees use the latest security software and virtual private networks to keep information secure.

Don't forget to add cybersecurity to your insurance checklist. Winter-Dent is always available to help you assess your changing insurance needs. If you have workers working at home and you haven't updated your insurance lately, give us a call.




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