Workers’ compensation insurance can be difficult when your employees are working from home. Here’s what you need to know about out-of-office work injuries and how to lower telecommuting risks.
Remote work has been on the rise for years but recently COVID-19 has launched it to the forefront of everyone’s lives. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 60% of U.S. employees have worked from home at some point.
As more people communicate telematically, small business owners are wondering whether workers’ comp is required for their remote employees – and how it works if someone gets hurt.
We have answers to some of the most common questions you may have about workers’ compensation for your remote employees. We’ll explain how workers’ comp requirements work, what it covers, and how to reduce the risk of remote worker injuries.
Is Workers’ Comp Required For Remote Workers?
Workers’ comp coverage is required by almost every state when there are one or more employees that work at the business; including remote workers.
Workers’ compensation covers costs related to…
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Disability benefits
Most policies also include employer’s liability insurance that can pay for multiple fees if an employee sues you over their injury including…
- Lawyer fees
- Court costs
- Settlements or judgments
Workers’ comp insurance usually covers injuries that “arise out of and in the course of employment.” That means that even at home, an injury that occurs while an employee is doing work-related activities, during work hours, may be a valid claim.
Your job is to make sure your remote employees are educated on how to report any work-related injuries to you. Do your best to document the incident, and then submit the claim to your insurance company.
How Does Worker’s Comp Work For Remote Employees?
Although employees usually see working from home as a perk, it has drawbacks for their employers.
When working from home, employers have little control over the safety of their workspace. If a remote employee is injured while working, there may be a struggle to find witnesses that can verify the incident.
Injuries are only covered by workers’ comp if they happen “in the scope and course of employment” or “in furtherance of employment.” So how do you know if a remote worker’s injury qualifies?
Interpretations differ by state, but most use the personal comfort doctrine. This states that workers should be compensated for injuries that occur while doing things like getting a drink of water or taking a bathroom break while working.
The rules are hardly clear, but just because your employees are on the clock, it doesn’t necessarily mean the injury itself is work-related. It depends on their actions and the circumstances that led to their injury.
Say that a remote worker trips over her dog and breaks her shoulder while making coffee in her kitchen during the workday. Even though she was working, the court found that the injury wasn’t work-related. They reasoned that the risk of tripping over her dog had nothing to do with her job.
Fortunately, your insurance provider (and perhaps the courts) will sort all that out. Your job is to make sure your remote employees know to quickly report any work-related injuries to you. Do your best to document the incident, and then submit the claim to your insurance company. State laws vary, but you may also need to report it to your state’s workers’ comp board.
After claim processing gets started, there’s very little that you’ll need to do as an employer. The smart thing to do is to reduce the risk before injuries happen, which can help keep the cost of your workers’ comp low.
Take Steps To Reduce Telecommuting Risk
You want to keep your worker’s safe no matter where they’re working from. Injuries hurt both their health and your bottom line. This is because worker’s comp premiums stay lower when claims are avoided.
The line is often blurred between professional and personal time during remote work. That can make it hard to figure out if a worker’s injury is actually related to their job.
These steps can help keep workers safe from injury and create an at-home work environment that reduces the risk for the business.
Create A Telecommuting Policy
Just like your company’s policies for things like work attire and time off, you should have a policy for telecommuting. This policy can:
- Define the employee’s job duties
- Set expectations around virtual communication, meetings, and status updates
- If your employees are required to clock in and out, document the process for tracking hours virtually
Establish Guidelines For A Home Office
To maintain productivity, ask your employees to sign a remote work agreement that outlines guidelines for their home working environment. Typically employees would agree to:
- Comply with all company policies while working remotely
- Find a distraction-free workspace at home
- Follow an agreed-upon schedule for work hours, meals, and breaks
It’s also a good idea to provide guidelines for their remote workspace. These could include instructions to designate a work area equipped with:
- A desk, chair, and closeable door
- Proper lighting
- Proper equipment (computer, mouse, phone, headset)
Workers can have some flexibility, but the majority of their workday should be spent in this home office.
Create A Home Safety Checklist
To avoid on-the-job injuries at home, make a home safety checklist for your employees to follow. The guide should identify physical hazards like:
- Loose cords
- Overloaded electrical outlets
- Poor lighting
It should provide tips for reducing potential risks, such as eliminating clutter in the employee’s home office.
Your checklist should include information about ergonomics too. This can help employees work comfortably and reduce the chance of injuries.
Formalize Cybersecurity Processes
With remote workers, the risk of a data breach or cyberattack on your business increases. When employees use their personal Wi-Fi network or computer for work, the risk elevates even more.
The risk of a cyberattack can be reduced by requiring all home employees to use only company-issued devices. These devices should have antivirus software installed to help prevent attacks. Every employee should also receive basic training on common cybersecurity threats, such as phishing.
The best protection against telecommuter cyber threats is the use of a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN provides your employees with secure access to your company’s systems and servers.
You may want to consider purchasing cyber liability insurance. This can protect your business from the costs of a data breach or cyberattack.
Cyber liability insurance covers expenses such as:
- Cyber extortion payments
- Hiring an expert to investigate a cyber incident
- Notifying affected customers
- Credit and fraud monitoring services
- Crisis management and public relations
- Business interruption expenses
Review Your Business Insurance Policies
Workers’ compensation coverage is one of many business insurance policies protects your business against unexpected costs. For instance, employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) protects your business if an employee sues for violation of rights, such as wrongful termination or discrimination.
You may want to speak with one of our insurance agents to make sure you have the insurance coverage you need. We can quote policies available for almost every kind of business risk.
The coronavirus pandemic has made remote work the new normal and created both opportunities and challenges for small businesses. If you have employees, your workers’ comp coverage should cover them at your business and while at home. By setting clear expectations and creating telecommuting policies, you can help keep your employee’s safe no matter where they are.