Avoiding Workplace Injuries While WFH

We’re basically into Round 2 of the buckle down and stay home, stay distant mode, and we all get that COVID fatigue has fully set in.  If employees had returned to the office, it’s quite possible that they are now back working from home.  Or, they’ve continued to do so all along.

It’s understandable that when the first Stay Home push happened, employers did their best to move as many to remote working from home as possible.  And we all made it happen, somehow.  But now that it’s been a norm for most of the year, organizations should really take a moment to review some policies they might have – or not – to keep their employees safe while at work, even from home.  The reason: workplace injuries do happen there, too, and employers need to be able to show guidelines on workspaces to minimize risk.

Court cases have consistently ruled that injuries to employees who are working from home (or other locations) are valid when the employee can show that they were working in the employer’s interest at the time the injury occurred.  Additionally, the employer’s lack of control over the conditions of an employee’s home-based work premises is irrelevant – employers are responsible for providing the same safe work environment for remote employees as they are for those who work onsite.

As our COVID restrictions continue, employers who review policies related to remote or teleworking employees, and share them with staff, will minimize their risk of an injured employee.  Make sure your telecommuting policy outlines company expectations for employees who work from home.  Cover items like:

  • Job responsibilities – what tasks and projects are appropriate for the remote-work arrangement. Set guidelines about where work may be performed as well. For instance, a phone call for work can only be answered while at the work desk, not in the kitchen or living room area.
  • Determine equipment needs and workspace design considerations. The physical workspace and location should be appropriate for the work, ideally separate from other spaces in the home.  Having pictures of the workspace can help with reviewing it for safety, and making sure that things like workstation setup, ergonomics and safety measures are in place, and hazards are eliminated as much as possible.
  • Conduct periodic checks of the home office environment to continue monitoring for safety purposes. Again, pictures may help in this time of social distancing, and to keep record.
  • Set fixed hours, meal and rest periods. This can help establish whether a possible injury was “in the course of” employment.  Have employees sign out when not directly performing work to make it more clear as to whether they are working or not.
  • Just as if they were in the office, an employee must report any workday accident immediately, so that an investigation can happen without delay.
  • Lastly, make sure to review tax and other legal implications. Yes, remote working can be really, really, nice.  And since it’s easier than ever, why not recruit from around the state, region or country – or internationally!  Before you do, make sure to dig into the implications and restrictions this might impose from jurisdictions that are outside your normal business operations.  An employee working from home in Idaho, for instance, when the normal operations of the business are in Washington, may trigger the requirement for the businesses to pay taxes, L&I or other costs not thought of before.  Same could be true for different jurisdictions within the same state.

The employee and manager should agree on the arrangements based on the policies, and a signature on the agreement should be given to HR.  Decide upon a period in which a review of performance will happen, so everyone can come together and discuss how the arrangement is working. Here, recommendations and modifications can be made, and a determination on whether the remote work situation will continue.  And always maintain communication.

Employee safety is of high importance for all businesses, whether its protection from heavy machinery, COVID, or home office.  Make sure you’ve done what you can to minimize the risk for all.

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