Another Covid 19 Reality–Analysis of potential WC and OSHA Claims for Employees Working from Home
With more people working from home than ever before it can be difficult to determine how to handle workers’ compensation claims and OSHA regulations. OSHA provides guidance on how to handle questions regarding employees who are hurt while working from home.
How do I decide if a case is work-related when the employee is working at home?
According to OSHA regulation 29 C.F.R. § 1904.5(b)(7) an injury or illness that occurs while an employee is working at home is considered work-related if it directly relates to the performance of work and his/her job, rather than to performance of activities in the general home environment or setting. This includes work completed in a home office or another portion of the home.
That the employee is now working from home doesn’t really change the analysis of whether an injury occurred “in the course of” the employment so long as the injury occurred during the time, place and circumstances of work. An employee who injures himself or herself in the actual performance of work for the employer while working from home appears to have a covered and compensable claim under the N.C. Workers’ Compensation Act, just like it would if the injury took place on the employer’s physical location or premises.
How can we assure that employees have safe home offices?
OSHA has clearly stated that it will not conduct inspections of home offices of employees and will not hold employers liable for home office safety or expect employers to inspect those offices. In instances of home-manufacturing offices, OSHA may conduct inspections of home offices if it receives a specific request. For more information, check out this National Law Review article.
Employers can become proactive in ensuring that safe work-at-home offices are set up. At a minimum, employers should assist their home-based workers in ensuring that home offices are set up in an ergonomic fashion and should provide training and periodic reminders to home-based workers regarding the creation and maintenance of a safe home office. In an effort to reduce work-from-home incidents, many employers require home-based workers to:
- Complete a safety check-list at least annually to reduce claims and encourage productivity
- Take regular breaks
- Have periodic check-ins with team leaders or supervisors including conference calls or video meetings
- Have a company representative review and inspect the work environment to ensure the employee is complying with previously established work-from-home protocols
Do I have to keep records of work-related injuries occurring in a home office?
Yes. OSHA states that all employers must track all work-related injury and illness claims even if the employee is working in a home office. For more information, click here.
How can I ensure that all employees have the same opportunities when working from home?
An issue of concern for employers when allowing employees to work from home should be the equal treatment of similarly situated workers. If an employer does not provide the same options or insist on the same requirements for groups of similarly situated employees regarding working from home, then a disgruntled employee could argue that they were being treated differently because of their status as a member of a protected class. Such alleged unfair treatment may be alleged to be evidence of discrimination against an employer. Establishing clear guidelines that are applied consistently to similarly situated employees should allow the employer to avoid claims of discrimination from employees related to work-from-home issues.