Do you need to worry about workers’ compensation for remote employees?
In short, yes.
When your organization adopts or expands a work-from-home policy, it’s a good idea to take a fresh look at your workers’ compensation coverage and processes.
Understanding which injuries your workers’ compensation might cover, adapting your safety program and updating your claims reporting process can help your organization handle injury claims more efficiently in the age of remote work.
What counts as a work-related injury at home?
It’s important to understand that employee injuries at home may be covered by workers’ compensation.
However, determining precisely what is a work-related injury at home can be tricky. That’s because every state has its own laws and interpretations of each injury claim.
In general, to have a compensable claim that is accepted by your company’s workers’ compensation carrier, the employee has to be in the course and scope of their job and the accident has to arise out of their job-related activities. For example:
- An employee having a busy day at the computer who feels a strain in their shoulder or elbow at day’s end may have a compensable claim, depending on the state, because they can claim they were injured while doing their job.
- For the same reason, an employee who has a work-related package delivered to their home, lifts it and hurts their back may have a claim.
Not every injury that happens at home during work hours may result in a successful workers’ compensation claim, though.
- A remote employee who gets up for a coffee, trips on their pet on the way to the kitchen and gets injured may not have a valid claim. This kind of situation can present a gray area and could end up being decided in court.
- An at-home employee who takes a work break for a treadmill run and gets hurt while running will likely not be able to claim workers’ compensation for their injury.
It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not up to the employer to determine whether an injured employee has a valid claim. Each workers’ compensation claim is subject to an investigation that complies with state employment law.
How can your organization promote workplace safety when your people are remote?
Fewer injuries means fewer workers’ compensation claims, which is why most organizations build workplace safety programs.
One challenge when your workforce – or even just a few employees – shifts to remote work is that your carefully crafted workplace safety program may not be applicable to employees at home.
For example, administrative employees working in a doctor’s office or a research library may face hazards related to accessing and moving paper records, so their safety program is focused on best lifting practices in the office. But when those employees are accessing records remotely from home, the risk landscape changes.
You can’t know what specific hazards might be present in each worker’s home, and it would be intrusive and impractical to ask. Instead, it’s best to focus on the injury risks that most remote workers face regardless of industry, like:
- Repetitive motion stress
- Injuries related to poor posture and ergonomics
These pose a particular risk when employees have had to abruptly shift to working at home. Without a proper desk and chair, they may be working while sitting on a sofa or at a dining table. That might be tolerable for a day or two, but over the long run it raises the risk of neck, back and arm injury.
As long as you have people working remotely, your workplace safety program should emphasize the importance of proper posture, correct furniture placement and other ergonomic best practices.
What should you do when an employee tells you they’ve been hurt on the job at home?
Despite your emphasis on work-from-home safety, injuries may happen. In those cases, from a legal and compliance standpoint, your organization’s role is to gather as many details as you can about how the injury happened, such as:
- The time and date when the employee was hurt
- The activity that preceded the injury
- The nature of the injury
It’s best to collect the employee’s report about their injury as soon as possible after the incident and to pass it along to your insurance carrier promptly. That pace allows the insurance adjuster and the employee to have their follow-up discussions while the facts are still fresh.
Once you collect the employee’s initial report and file it with your workers’ compensation insurance carrier, the matter goes to their adjuster. This is the person who has the resources and knowledge to decide if a claim is work-related or not, based on their investigation and the law in the state where the injury happened.
What does a workers’ compensation investigation involve?
The adjuster will get in touch with the employee for a detailed interview and to collect any supporting documents. Typically, the adjuster will:
- Get a recorded or written statement from the employee describing the injury and how it happened.
- Request that the employee sign a medical release authorization form to get copies of any medical records related to the injury.
- Conduct an interview with the employer to verify that the employee’s statements to them and to the adjuster align.
With that information, the adjuster may decide the case is clearly work-related or clearly not a result of work activities.
If the claim falls into a gray area, your company’s insurance carrier may seek a legal opinion from an attorney with experience in the state’s workers’ compensation law on:
- Whether the claim should be accepted or denied
- How strong their case would be if a denial is challenged in court
If the claim does go to court, your state’s written laws plus existing case law – how previous similar claims have been judged – will determine the outcome of the case.
How can you ensure your policy addresses workers’ compensation for remote employees?
Every state (except Texas) requires employers to have workers’ compensation insurance, although the details vary from state to state. It’s wise to regularly review your workers’ compensation policy to identify ways to reduce costs and to make sure your coverage is optimal for the way your business is growing and evolving.
A professional employer organization can offer your workers’ compensation coverage with a workers’ compensation carrier and often will help identify safety improvements that can reduce the likelihood of workers’ comp claims.
Now is also a good time to review your organization’s claims management and reporting system, to make sure it addresses workers’ compensation for remote employees.
To learn more about workers’ compensation and other business compliance requirements, download our free e-book: HR compliance: Are you putting your business at risk?