Remote operations are increasingly commonplace. Yours may be among the many businesses making hybrid and remote working a permanent part of operations. This can be a positive approach for all concerned. But there are still areas of the practice in which companies and their staff are uncertain of the protocols.
One of these issues surrounds workers’ compensation. If an employee becomes injured or ill while on the job at home is there a reasonable expectation for a claim? Your employees may not be technically on work premises as usually defined by insurance. Yet, they’re performing tasks that would usually fall within this remit. So, there’s certainly some room for debate.
It’s important both for the well-being of your staff and the success of your business that you clarify matters here. Let’s take a closer look at the issue.
The Short Answer
Does workers’ comp cover remote workers? Yes. In any instance where injury or illness is sustained in the course of company activities, employees are entitled to a certain amount of recompense. Similarly, your business can expect to make a successful claim under your insurance.
However, as with most such circumstances, it’s still not quite so straightforward. There are still expectations for employees to follow safety guidelines and not to act recklessly. Indeed, the burden of proof that an accident happened during work duties usually falls on the remote employee.
There may be some argument over what constitutes work activities. A court in Germany recently ruled in favor of a remote employee who fell down their apartment stairs and broke their back. The court considered the journey from bed to the desk as the employee’s commute to work. This is a relatively new situation for everyone involved and we can expect more such legal arguments in the future. While you certainly want to treat your staff fairly, it’s important to also tread carefully around what you think qualifies for compensation.
You’ll usually find the majority of workers’ comp payments are directed toward loss of income. It is not unknown for businesses to pay for medical bills. You may even be subject to paying a lump sum in extreme cases where mental anguish or permanent injuries are involved. But most often it’s about making certain your workers keep getting paid for the period they’re unable to be actively productive.
However, in remote circumstances, there is a little potential for conflict here. Your liability insurers may agree to cover a percentage of the rates you’re currently paying workers. If your employee feels the amount they’re awarded isn’t sufficient, they may take the matter to court. This can result in a ruling in favor of a reasonable payment based on the cost of living in the geographical area the worker resides in. As such, you may be footing more of the bill than your insurance will cover.
It’s important to get your approach to wages right from the outset. There are several considerations to bear in mind when establishing fair pay for remote employees. This includes location-based pay in-line with the living standards of their hometown. It should also factor in regional taxes they may have to pay which eat unfairly into their base wage rate. Bringing the pay level up a little can boost worker morale and also ensure you avoid being saddled with excess workers’ comp responsibilities in the future.
You can’t always reduce how much workers’ comp will get paid. However, you can make sure your employees’ activities fall within the guidelines of your insurance. This means taking a robust approach to managing how remote staff perform their tasks.
Managing staff members scattered across multiple locations is challenging. But there are best practices you can utilize to ensure standards are maintained and staff actions are visible to leadership. Maintaining a culture of accessibility means staff can ask you about actions they’re uncertain of rather than risk overextending themselves. Implementing standardized practices for specific tasks leaves little room for improvisation leading to hazardous errors. You can even use remote monitoring software to ensure staff is working within safety guidelines.
Your efforts to maintain awareness must incorporate encouraging regular and high-quality communication with employees. Make sure you schedule meetings to talk about how they’re working and potential risks they may be exposing themselves to. If they’ve had time off, implement return-to-work conversations. This helps you to collaborate in arranging a gradual route to full activities if necessary.
Workers’ comp can be a good tool to help make sure remote workers don’t suffer additional hardships as a result of workplace accidents. But it’s far from the only tool. Prevention is usually considered a better route. It can also serve to keep down the costs of compensation and the administration involved in your business.
This starts with making certain your remote workers have the resources they need in their home office to avoid issues. This could include ergonomic furniture, light filters for screens, and equipment cleaning supplies. But it should also extend to providing education about the importance of healthy posture and taking regular breaks. These periods should be spent outside or taking exercise, not just moving away from the screen. You can’t be there to enforce these steps, but you can regularly encourage them.
There will also be times your remote staff get ill, experience mental health challenges, or early signs of injury. It may seem counterintuitive from a business perspective, but you should encourage them to take time off. You can even suggest actions to get the most out of their sick day, like meditation, talking to loved ones, and staying hydrated. The right attitude to taking time off can improve their recovery and mitigate the potential for the situation to get worse.
Remote workers have just as much right to expect workers’ compensation as their in-office counterparts. While there is still much debate over the fine points of the issue, it’s worth taking steps that keep your costs low while treating workers fairly. Wherever possible, you should adopt activities to keep high standards of safety and maintain worker wellbeing to avoid the potential for costly compensation cases.
Author Info: Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, and a graduate of the lessons of life (primary) and also the University of Idaho. These days, Noah teaches English as a second language in lovely Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and moonlights as a content strategist for an American-based marketing company.