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Work-From-Home Employees and Risk Management

We all know that workplace safety is important – but not much thought is given to those who have moved to teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many companies have found that moving to teleworking worked so well for them, that they have not insisted on people returning to the office full time. 

You can’t realistically go to every employee’s home and inspect their home office set up, but you can provide some helpful guidelines that should reduce the likelihood of work-related injuries at home. 

  • Seated desks should be about 29” high. For standing desks, use elbows as a guide for desk height, as it varies from person to person. 
  • The top of your monitor should be at eye level, and about 20-25” from your face. 
  • Try positioning yourself in an area of neutral natural light. A window behind the worker will create a glare on the screen, and a window behind their monitors can make the screen equally difficult to read – and both can lead to eye strain and headaches. 
  • Chances are they don’t have a proper (ergonomically correct) desk chair at home, so they should be able to rest their back against the chair back and their feet on the floor. The employer can choose to provide ergonomic supports for any shortcomings, but the employee can usually do this at home with a phone book under the feet or a rolled towel for added lumbar support.
  • No electrical cords should be running across a walking space, to avoid trip hazards. 
  • Speaking of electrical cords, don’t “Griswold” a home office by using more than one extension cord or surge protector for one area.
  • Have a plan for reporting WFH injuries, and provide injured workers with treatment options that are close to their home. The occ-health centers close to your business may not be convenient for employees in other cities. 
  • Consider having employees sign off on a “work from home” agreement outlining expectations.

Even with all of those checkpoints in place, you could still have an employee file a workers’ comp claim for an injury sustained while working from home. So what happens then? The same standards apply at home as when at a company worksite, which are – did the injury occur in the course of, and arising out of employment? Examples include a slip and fall from tripping over a computer cord, or carpal tunnel from prolonged and repetitive typing.  The claimant would still have to prove that the injury occurred from an activity exclusively related to their job, and also that it occurred during work hours.

The other big question is, “Did the injury occur when the employee was doing a task to benefit the employer?” If there was no benefit to the employer when the injury occurred, an employer may want to contest that claim. If the employee slips and falls while going to answer the doorbell, where would the benefit to the employer lie?

A lot of gray areas can arise from these types of claims, but the same questions are asked and still need to be met by a claimant filing a workers’ comp claim. If you have questions about compensability of an at-home injury, please reach out to your claims examiner at Spooner Inc. If you’re not a Spooner client and would like to learn more about how our claims management team handles these gray areas to Brian Davis at 440-596-1978.

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