Telecommuting sounds like something found in 1950s science fiction serials that have suddenly become real. Workers that don’t leave their homes and still deliver a full days’ labor? It costs the company less in power and office space and keeps morale up.
You may have seen a few articles extolling the virtues of telecommuters to your bottom line. One thing that gets overlooked in those reasonably solid articles is the backend costs of having a diffuse workforce. Most importantly, what legal responsibility you and your company have for off-site workers.
This is an important thing to consider as the latest figures show an accident can cost $21,800 in average compensation. It’s better to have Worker’s compensation insurance than to pay that out of pocket.
That brings up the question, “What is my responsibility to telecommuters?” This guide will explain both your responsibility and who the law favors in these matters.
Your Responsibility to Telecommuters
It’s easy to want a specific answer to every question. After all, no two situations are identical and even the smallest difference can make a big difference. The legal profession is practically founded on this type of hair-splitting.
Still, when it comes to emerging trends and technology, courts frequently rely on similarities to other case law to set precedent.
For the purposes of Workman’s compensation, any worker operating in the capacity of work-related duties is covered. They don’t have to be physically at work to be eligible for benefits.
This shouldn’t be surprising, some jobs have been decentralized for years. Anyone driving a vehicle for deliveries or transportation obviously is ‘on the job’.
Remote service workers such as electricians and plumbers also don’t tend to work in their business. Their business is to do work in other peoples homes.
With the bulk of case law protecting remote workers, you need to put effective and well-understood policies in place. These create clear distinctions in liability.
Start by defining the work area. Include what security measures need to be conformed to. Finally, put policies in writing as part of your telecommuters contracts.
Since you bear the liability for injuries that occur while a remoter worker performs job-related duties, you want to make sure their work area is as safe as the office.
It can be restrictive to mimic everything from your office space to a home environment. The US Office of Personnel Management has an official checklist for what is considered adequate. It makes a solid starting space to shape your own policy.
Obvious hazards don’t take a lot to find but need to be addressed. These include gross violations such as exposed wires, tripping hazards, and adequate ventilation.
Hidden hazards take more thought to root out. You need to check for proper smoke detectors, carbon monoxide, and fire suppression.
Keep in mind, a work area is a work area. It is not, unless you allow it, the entire home or apartment a worker resides in.
Also, remember to check routes to and from sanitary facilities and kitchens that can be sued as break rooms. A telecommuting employee is afforded the same breaks as other workers. You bear liability for injuries that occur during break time so approve break areas.
Once you sign off on an area, your individual policy determines who is responsible for the upkeep of the area.
Just like your HQ, a telecommuter’s work area needs security. Security comes in the same two forms: physical and cybersecurity.
If you are providing equipment for a remote worker, you will care more about physical security than otherwise. Overall, physical security is secondary because it’s unlikely a worker will be targeted for being part of the company.
Cybersecurity is the priority. You need to protect the data housed in employees machines and the transmission to you and your clients. Hacker’s enjoy the ability to backdoor into a more secure core system by attacking weaker remote worker stations.
Protect your workers and your business by keeping your security measures up to specifications.
It’s often said that telecommuting is a privilege not a right. While you benefit from lower overhead and the ability to work with employees that might have trouble with a commute or an office environment, it’s still your call.
Set your policy up and be clear that violations of the policy violate the remote work agreement. This puts the onus on the worker to report problems and to adhere to the policy.
Don’t be overzealous. Using a telecommuter policy to shift liability to a worker will be viewed as actionable.
The purpose of a policy is to show good-faith in creating a safe environment and making clear worker and employer responsibilities. It helps both parties when created fairly. A one-sided policy quickly becomes a bludgeon for attornies.
Courts have steadily found in favor of those that work from home in Worker’s compensation cases. The current reading of the law treats a remote workspace as an extension of the home office.
The same rules that apply to surveillance in the office apply at home. Measures to ensure that workers are doing work on company time have to be reasonable and non-invasive.
Some adjustments to policy need to be made for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. Again, these follow the alterations you would make for the HQ office but can provide huge savings.
When dealing with out of state workers, policy needs to reflect the variation in rules for the state the work is done in. It is not possible to force compliance from a remote worker for a state they do not dwell in.
Know Your Work
It’s a fast-paced world out there with constant changes to rules and regulations. Often, you are impacted the most by the things you don’t know. When it comes to telecommuters and workman’s compensation, you have the basics now.
To keep in the know and avoid mistakes contact us for further information on our offerings and services.