Potential Work Comp Liabilities When Employees Work from Home

Work From Home
Todd Pollock

Senior Vice President, Workers’ Compensation

March 31, 2020

In 2019, nearly 4.3 million people in the U.S. worked from home at least part time, making up 3.2% of the nation’s workforce. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses find it necessary for employees to work remotely to ensure business continuity and to limit employee exposure to the virus.

Today, more organizations and companies of all sizes and in all industries are adopting work-from-home practices to save on office space, overhead costs and to promote greater employee work satisfaction. But despite these benefits, it’s not uncommon for employees to suffer work-related injuries within the scope of their employment duties while working from home — injuries that may expose a company to workers’ compensation risks. Here’s what your business clients should consider when it comes to potential liabilities of employees working remotely.

At-home offices aren’t always ergonomically compliant.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nearly one-third of dollars spent on workers’ compensation costs were from claims due to ergonomic injuries. And while it may not be easy or convenient for employers to ensure that the environment their at-home employees are working in is ergonomically compliant, it’s important to do what they can to minimize the risks. This can include supplying remote workers with the proper equipment for outfitting their home office, such as an ergonomic keyboard to prevent carpal tunnel injuries and an ergonomic office chair to reduce back issues.

At-home employees often put in long hours without breaks.
The human musculoskeletal system includes the joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons and structures that support limbs, neck and back. According to OSHA, work-related musculoskeletal disorders typically exceed $50 billion annually in workers’ compensation claims. Employees working from home may not be adhering to typical office hours. For example, instead of an eight-hour day with two 10-minute breaks and a lunch hour, employees may decide to power through their workday with no break at all, causing physical fatigue and injuries associated with carpal tunnel, neck and back pain, and forward head posture problems from sitting at a computer and rounding the shoulders to lean the head forward.

Work-from-home accidents can happen.
Accidents that happen at an office location can occur just as easily in a home office. According to OSHA, business owners are responsible for providing all employees with a safe work environment, and home-based workers have the same workers’ compensation benefits as in-office employees do. This is why it’s not unusual for the courts to rule in favor of an employee in a workers’ compensation claim due to an at-home injury while working remotely. In fact, when it comes to workers’ compensation, the law doesn’t differentiate between an accident occurring at a home office and an accident occurring at an office building downtown. A good example of this type of claim would be the case of Sandberg v. JC Penney. Measures that include establishing a work-from-home safety policy for employees working remotely can be a step in the right direction to help mitigate risks.

Because employers have little or no control over the environment in which their work-from-home employees are conducting company business, they need to understand the increased potential for workers’ compensation risks under their state’s workers’ compensation laws. Staying informed on workers’ compensation issues and trends can help insurers, employers and stakeholders better manage emerging risks.

To learn how Worldwide Facilities can help, contact Todd Pollock at 508-625-3547 or email tpollock@wwfi.com.

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