There is no doubt that the way we work has changed drastically in 2021. As so many employees have adjusted to working from home, trading their cubicle for a kitchen table and the board room meetings for Zoom appointments, many have become accustomed to making a workplace out of practically anywhere.
Of course, some of these changes come with implications, especially in the workers’ compensation arena. Identifying a few key questions and solutions on this matter, however, can help both employers and employees be better set up for success as telework and hybrid work quickly becomes the new standard of conducting business.
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Megan Carpenter, claims consultant with Holmes Murphy, recently shared some insights with BenefitsPRO on what employers should be thinking about when it comes to workers’ comp claims in an at-home environment.
What happens when an employee is injured at home?
As with any workers’ compensation case, the most important first step is to gather the necessary facts. Especially when it comes to a home-related injury, an investigation must take place as to whether or not the injury took place within the course of employment. This analysis focuses on the time, place, and manner in which the injury was sustained. Therefore, the investigation will likely involve determining location, the tasks being completed, and additional details such as workplace setup.
What are examples of tasks within the course of employment and those that are not?
Essentially, most work-related tasks occurring during normal working hours can be considered within the course of employment. This can also include brief diversions from work tasks, such as meal breaks. However, longer breaks, such as those that occur outside of the home office, may not apply. A main question to ask yourself is whether the deviation was substantial enough to completely remove the employee from their employment. Again, this is another reason why gathering as many details and asking the right questions are critical.
What can be done if details of the situation are challenging to determine?
Of course, when investigating cases related to employees working from home, there is a new set of challenges given a lack of witnesses, no definite way to determine and mandate the work area, etc.
Often, employers facing these situations are even more so relying on the council of their attorneys to determine the best course of action. In this case, an attorney can assist in helping scale what is within or not within the course of employment, and what an employee may or may not be entitled to based on the injury sustained. They can also help in devising the best plan for the employer’s individual state, as compensation laws vary for telework based on location, just as they do for in-person work.
What are some best practices to mitigate workers’ compensation losses?
Thankfully, even amid the challenges, there are a number of steps employers can take to reduce the risk of workers’ compensation losses. These include:
- Identifying tasks employees are NOT expected to do while working
- Defining work hours and expectations of when your employees should be working (i.e. approval from supervisor before allowing work outside defined hours)
- Developing a telework policy that constitutes items such as eligible positions for telework, process to report hours, coordination with attendance policy, number of days and expected work hours, requesting accommodations, etc.
- Considering the ergonomics of an employee’s workspace and recommendations on how to maintain a safe and hazard-free area