The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way millions of people now work. Social distancing guidelines have required many companies to enable employees to work remotely from their homes when possible. Even after a vaccine is administered and we get back to a “new normal,” the work from home trend will not necessarily end. A PWC survey on US remote working found that 55% of executives believe that most of their employees will continue working remotely at least one day a week post-pandemic.
Keeping that in mind, what then happens if an employee working remotely suffers an injury? Are your employees still covered under your workers’ compensation insurance? While the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered everyday life, remote working is not a new concept. Typically, if a remote worker is injured while conducting work-related activities, he or she is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
When it comes to protecting your business and employees, understanding workers’ comp remote worker requirements is critical. We’re going to outline the basic requirements and provide tips for providing workers’ comp coverage to remote workers.
Does workers’ comp cover employees working from home?
The short answer is sometimes. This all depends on the specific nature of the injury, the state the workplace is located in, and the details of the remote working policy.
How do you define “work-related injuries” for remote workers? In general, an employee injury or illness is compensable under workers’ comp if it “arises out of and in the course of employment,” regardless of where the injury occurs. To break it down:
- “Arising out of” relates to what the employee was doing at the time of the injury
- “In the course of” relates to when the injury happened
A workplace injury may occur suddenly (like a minor burn) or develop over time (like carpal tunnel syndrome). In either case, a compensable injury must have occurred during work hours and from an activity related to the employee’s job.
How does workers’ comp work for remote employees?
Most often, the hurt employee has the burden of proving that the injury was work-related and needs adequate evidence in their favor. Since many telecommuters are home alone while they work, there may not always be someone who can corroborate the incident.
Take, for example, Verizon Pennsylvania v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Alston). In 2006, an employee was working from home when she fell down the stairs to her home office, injuring her neck. She had been working in her basement home office when she went upstairs to get a drink. She fell walking back downstairs to the office to answer a ringing phone.
Even though she had briefly stopped working to get a drink, the workers’ compensation judge, Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, and the Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of the injured worker. The Commonwealth Court determined that the home office was an approved “secondary work premise.” The claimant was injured in the course and scope of her employment, so benefits were awarded.
Because state laws differ when it comes to what’s considered a “work-related injury,” it’s important to define each employee’s normal working hours and specific job duties to help determine what is—and is not—a work-related claim.
Is workers’ comp required for remote employees?
If you have even one employee, it’s most likely required by state law that your business has workers’ comp insurance. This is regardless of employees being remote or not.
It’s common for small business owners to think they don’t need to purchase workers’ compensation insurance if work operations are low-risk and they have only a few employees. However, that’s a very risky assumption to make. If you don’t have your state’s required workers’ comp coverage for employees, you’re at risk for being charged with fines, penalties, and even imprisonment, depending on the severity of your state law.
To find your state’s workers’ comp remote worker requirements, it’s best to go directly to the source: your state workers’ compensation board. Find your state’s workers’ comp requirements.
Regardless of state law, it is always a smart idea to invest in workers’ compensation insurance for all employees. This will help keep both your business and your workers protected in case of injury, especially during unexpected emergencies. We’ve created a comprehensive resource section where you can find your answers to small business workers’ comp questions.
Tips for ensuring safe telecommuting practices
Since the actions of remote workers cannot be directly monitored by a supervisor, small business owners may be at an additional risk of liability for these employees. To reduce the risk of injury in an employee’s home-based workspace, it’s important to take as thorough precautions as possible to ensure that home offices are safe work environments.
Here are a few tips for implementing safe telecommuting practices.
- Create a remote working policy that details your expectations for telecommuters. Review it with employees and ask them to sign an acknowledgment that they received and reviewed the policy.
- Set fixed work hours and meal and rest times for remote workers to better define “in the course of employment.”
- Clearly define each employee’s scope of work. The policy should state that activities falling outside the employee’s job description are not the employer’s responsibility.
- Establish standards for a home office, such as requiring a designated and dedicated work area.
- Provide training on workstation setup and safety measures, including ergonomic best practices.
- Detail the equipment used by each employee.
- Enact guidelines for check-ins (such as geo-tracking or equipment tracking) or other reporting milestones.
Still have concerns about COVID-19’s impact on remote workers’ comp?
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted how business is now conducted. As a small business owner, it might be a rocky road to recovery, but hopefully, you are making positive progress. As you re-evaluate how to optimize your budget so that you can get operations up and running again, there are a variety of expenses that need to be considered—including workers’ comp coverage.
Your insurance provider should be able to help guide you along the best path when it comes to workers’ comp for remote workers. There are several important questions you should ask your workers’ comp provider about changes you may need to make to your coverage during COVID-19. These include:
- Do you provide billing leniency?
- Will you accept a good-faith deposit?
- What happens if I have a lapse in coverage?
- What if I now have fewer employees on payroll?
- What are other ways you’re helping customers?
Workers’ compensation insurance made easy
If figuring out workers’ compensation insurance seems overwhelming, you’re not alone. Pie Insurance can help make workers’ comp as easy as pie. We’ve taken the guesswork out of the process and we’re passionate about providing workers’ comp insurance for small businesses across the country.
Thanks for reading our article. Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As laws change regularly, you should refer to your state legislation and/or an advisor for specific legal counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workers’ compensation insurance or check your current rate in 3 minutes.