Business Workshop: Workers’ comp for telecommuters

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A recent survey by WorldatWork finds that 88% of companies offer employees some form of telecommuting.

Allowing employees to work from home can help companies retain top employees and boost productivity. But the increase in telecommuting has also led to an increase in workers’ compensation claims against employers for accidents that occur at home. Many employers are unaware that workers’ compensation laws hold employers equally responsible for accidents that occur in the office and in employees’ home offices.

Rather than risk losing employee loyalty, any company that has found success offering telecommuting options to employees should have a policy in place to minimize the risk of employee claims. The telecommuting policy should:

• Define the boundaries of the home office. If the boundaries are not well-established, an employer can be liable for any accident that happens on the employee’s property, including outdoors.

• Limit work hours and set breaks. Without fixed hours, an employee could argue that an injury occurring at any time of day or night is work-related.

• Describe the scope of the employee’s work activities. The agreement should be clear that any activity outside of the employee’s job description, such as using a knife to make lunch, is not part of the scope of employment.

• Require the employee to maintain a safe work place clear of hazards.

• Make it clear that telecommuting is a privilege, not a right, and that the telecommuting policy can change at any time.

In addition to having a well-defined policy, the employer may want to conduct a site check to ensure that the home office is safe.

Employers should understand their full responsibilities and liabilities for providing a safe working environment, and ensure that their telecommuting policies minimize the risk of employee claims.

Beth Slagle, Meyer, Unkovic & Scott, bas@muslaw.com


Business workshop is a weekly feature from local experts offering tidbits on matters affecting business. To contribute, contact Business Editor Brian Hyslop at bhyslop@post-gazette.com

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