According to recent reports, nearly 30 million Americans telecommute (work from home) at least 1 day each week, and the trend is only expected to continue to increase.
There are a multitude of benefits that Employers can realize when they allow their employees to telecommute such as Increased Productivity, Higher Morale, Less Employee Turnover, and fewer sick/personal days taken; but there are also a number of potentially serious and very costly issues associated with telecommuting as well.
Listed below are 3 potential pitfalls that employers may expose themselves to when allowing their employees to telecommute.
Workers' Compensation: Workers' Compensation benefits are intended to respond to injuries incurred by employees during the course of employment. However, when employees telecommute, the delineation between work and personal activities becomes blurred and an employers workers' compensation policy may be required to respond to injuries of a personal nature during telecommuting
- Example 1: An employee in one state was injured while salting his driveway on a day that he was telecommuting from home. The injury was submitted to the employer's workers compensation carrier and it was paid. This means that the employer's Workers Compensation experience will be detrimentally impacted by this and other such claims
- Example 2: For employees that telecommute, both their homes and offices can be considered "job sites". The issue here is that if an employee is injured in an automobile or other type of accident while traveling to the office on a non-telecommuting day, they may still be entitled to Workers Compensation benefits. This is because it may be determined that they were traveling between jobsites rather than to work, and travel between jobsites is customarily covered under workers compensation.
Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"): Employers that offer select employees the option to telecommute may also expose themselves to being required to allow other employees to do the same under ADA. This may be the case when it is determined that it can be considered an reasonable accomodation for an eligible employee to telecommute from home. This then may require the employer to offer it to other employees.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA"): Although OSHA has said they do not intend to actively investigate and survey telecommuting home work spaces, it has said that it WILL investigate and pursue necessary action if a complaint is filed for such a location. This in turn would require the employer to ensure that the employee's home work spaces are OSHA compliant, similar to their office.
- Example 1: If an employee is telecommuting from home and their work space is located in an attic and the stairway to access the attic is too steep, not lit well enough, etc., then this type of issue would be considered a violation of an OSHA safety requirement and then OSHA would respond.
Even with the above and other potential pitfalls associated with allowing employees to telecommute, it is still considerably beneficial for employers to offer such accomodations to their employees, IF the correct policies and procedures are in place.
If this or any other Human Resource, Workers Compensation, OSHA Compliance or ADA issue is a challenge for you, Talk to the Experts at GDI Insurance today.
Matthew Davis MBA, AAI