The statistics on working from home and telecommuting continues to grow as information technologies increasingly decentralize the workplace. A decade ago, only 24% of workers had home offices and/or performed workplace activities from home.
Last year, this number rose to 60%. This includes full time telecommuters and workers that spend at least half of the week performing duties not in the workplace. It makes sense for businesses to move equipment and bodies out of the office.
One under-explored aspect of the telecommuting phenomenon is liability and responsibility when it comes to workers’ compensation.
The fewer people that work in the building, the less space needed. This also cuts down on power consumption, all of which effect a bottom line. Studies have also reflected that employee productivity rises when work is done out of the office.
Workers’ Comp Benefits Out of Workplace
Though tentative, multiple courts have found that injuries sustained at home while performing work activities makes a worker eligible for benefits. Injuries don’t have to specifically happen at a desk or when in direct contact with company equipment.
Under the personal comfort doctrine, reasonable activities undertaken by an employee at home but not in direct service of business interests can also qualify.
Employers have a duty to ensure that safety and comfort of employees is adequate when approving remote workers. This is especially important if those employees work full time remote jobs.
For a workplace to be a workplace it must be defined as such. It is the employer’s responsibility to lay out what counts as a work area and what does not.
The designated work area must adhere to comparable safety standards for the type of work done. It is also on the employer to establish ways of checking in or tracking that an employee is in the designated work area.
Any of this that is not laid out ahead of time can be a problem for the employer in defending themselves against a workers’ compensation claim.
Along with these definitions of work area must also be approved equipment and what counts as work hours. Breaks, include meals, fall under the same time allotments per hours worked as an on-site job.
Liability and Damages
One of the more important aspects of establishing telecommuting policies for a company is the breakdown of worker responsibilities.
Loose wording in a telecommuting contract or agreement can leave a company liable for damages to employees and to equipment.
Equipment issued for the purpose of workplace duties needs to meet industry standards. If the employee is allowed to use personal equipment and that equipment causes a problem or injury, the employer is still liable.
Security breeches that occur from telecommuting employees also effect the company. This includes any injury an employee sustains from protecting employer equipment and data.
As workplaces continue to offer diffuse employment settings, the rules regulating workers’ compensation are likely to change. These changes can be tricky to follow but the current trend is to put liability on the employer for unclear language.
If you are facing a workers’ compensation claim as a remote or telecommuting worker, reach out to an experienced attorney to help you.