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Managing On-the-Job Risk When What it Means to be “On the Job” Is Changing

By Nina Terenzi, Jul. 20, 2022
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Workers’ Compensation insurance (“workers’ comp”) covers the cost of medical bills and lost wages when employees are injured or sickened at work. Nearly every state requires businesses with one or more employees to carry it. Workers’ comp is a crucial part of every employer’s strategy for keeping employees safe when they are on the job, even as the definition of “on the job” is changing. Long before the pandemic pushed it to the mainstream, remote work among white collar workers was on the rise. Now, remote work seems poised to become a permanent and core part of our workforce—more than four million people in the USA worked remotely last fall. Because workers’ comp coverage extends to these telecommuters, modern risk managers are reviewing their current policies, establishing best practices for lowering home-office risks, and communicating steps to take when someone does become injured or ill on the job.  

What workers’ compensation insurance covers 

Injuries are only covered by workers' comp if they happen “in furtherance of employment.” Fortunately, many such injuries—catastrophes related to heavy machinery or malfunctioning equipment, for example—fall outside the scope of risk for most telecommuters. However, any worker may be compensated for injuries that occur while doing things like lifting a box or getting a drink of water during the course of their workday.  

Workers’ compensation typically reimburses injured employees for: 

  • Medical bills 

  • Lost wages 

  • Disability benefits 

Many policies also include employer’s liability insurance. If the employee sues the employer over the injury, this can pay for: 

  • Lawyer fees 

  • Court costs 

  • Settlements or judgments 

Risk management for at-home workers 

Reducing risk before injuries occur is good for the health of employees and—because it keeps workers’ comp premiums lower—good for a business’s bottom line. Making and communicating the right protocols and policies is key to a strong risk management strategy. Below are a few suggestions and guidelines.  

Establish a telecommuting policy 

If telecommuting is an option for employees, make sure the rules of engagement are clear. For example: 

  • Document individual job duties 

  • Set expectations around communication, meetings, and status reports 

  • Document all processes for tracking hours 

Create home office guidelines 

Consider asking employees to sign a remote work agreement that may require them to: 

  • Comply with all company policies while working remotely 

  • Follow an agreed-upon schedule for work, meals, and breaks 

  • Find a distraction-free workspace that is equipped with 

  • A desk and chair 

  • Proper lighting 

  • Proper equipment (computer, mouse, phone, headset) 

Develop a home-safety checklist 

Getting set up for a safe, efficient workspace shouldn’t involve guesswork. Help your employees by creating a checklist to identify physical hazards such as: 

  • Tangled or loose cords 

  • Overloaded electrical outlets 

  • Poor lighting 

  • Clutter 

  • Improperly set up keyboards and other ergonomic threats to health and well-being 

Managing claims for at-home work-related injuries   

Occasionally, even when following best practices, someone gets hurt at work. Once an injury has occurred, the employer’s main responsibility is to document the incident and then swiftly and transparently file a claim with the insurance company. It is never the employer’s responsibility to determine the validity of a claim—that’s the responsibility of the insurance company, and if necessary, the courts. Rather, the employer must simply take action on behalf of the injured employee.  

Remote work, at least for now, is the new normal and with it comes many opportunities and challenges for businesses. If you have employees, your workers’ comp coverage should protect them whether they work at your brick-and-mortar establishment or from their own home. By communicating clear expectations and telecommuting policies, you can help keep your employees safe no matter where they work.   

Review your risk with a trusted partner 

Workers’ compensation coverage is just one of many insurance policies that can protect your business against unexpected costs. Contact us today at info@easterninsurance.com to review and modernize your strategy for managing business risk.  

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