Best practices for minimizing worker's compensation liability from your remote workforce
As the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic drags on, employers are continuing to wrestle with the limitations of outdated employment laws ill-suited for the modern workforce. Imagine Don Draper, Ward Cleaver or Rob Petrie settling in for their daily 9-to-5 from the kitchen table.
Squarely among the laws not specifically designed with the home office in mind is the worker's compensation insurance system. Employers often are surprised to learn that they may be liable for employee injuries that occur off-premises at an employee's home.
Worker's compensation laws vary by state, but under most state laws, including Wisconsin's, employers are liable for employee injuries that arise both out of and during the course of employment, regardless of the location where the injury occurs. In contrast, injuries that occur when an employee deviates from their working duties to undertake a task or activity for a strictly personal or private purpose are not typically compensable.
To minimize exposure to employee claims for injuries that occur while an employee is working from home, employers should consider implementing the following best practices for employees working remotely:
- Require express written authorization before an employee can work remotely
- Update and maintain accurate employee job descriptions and expectations, and confirm that employees understand the specific responsibilities of their positions when working from home
- Require employees to specifically define their home office space and provide employees with information and training about safe workstation set-ups, consistent with your in-office practices
- Create and maintain a safety checklist for home offices to ensure employee's offices are free from any recognized hazards
- Remind employees, in writing, of their obligation to promptly report all work injuries consistent with your worker's compensation and safety policies, even if they occur at the remote worksite
- Remind employees, in writing, of who should receive any reports of injuries that occur in their home office environment
- Require both non-exempt and exempt employees to record and maintain a detailed record of actual time worked, including a detailed record of meal breaks and other personal breaks during the workday