Technological advancements and digitization have contributed to the increasing trend of remote workers, and many organizations now hire people working from remote locations. Remote work or telecommuting has distinctive advantages such as flexibility and vitality in operations. Employers recruiting remote workers may have questions regarding compliance with employment laws such as record keeping, notice requirements, break periods, and workers’ compensation among others. Remote workers also are prone to injuries when carrying out their jobs and this makes it necessary to have a remote worker compensation plan in keeping with the law. If an employee is injured while on the job, workers’ compensation kicks in with all due preliminary formalities such as medical records review and insurance peer review.
Remote Worker Statistics
A 2010 report published by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows that around 24% of American workers perform some or all of their work from home. A 2018 study found that more than 60% of the world’s workforce works at least one day a week away from their office, and that almost 50% of all employees work half the week remotely – which has been made possible by advances in technology. This adds up to almost 3.7 million people working from home at least part-time. Research by Owl Labs, a video conferencing company, has shown that 24% of remote workers earn $100,000 or even more compared to just 7% of those who work full-time in an office. 6% of remote workers said they earned over $200,000, whereas only 1% of full-time office workers reported the same earning power. The data was analyzed from 1,202 U.S. workers, 62% of them worked remotely at any frequency and 30% did so full time. Experience is a major factor when considering remote-work privileges. Founders, senior leadership, and chief executives said they had flexible arrangements at higher rates than workers with lesser experience. Industries with the highest percentage of remote workers are:
- Healthcare – 15%
- Technology/internet – 10%
- Financial services – 9%
- Education – 8%
- Manufacturing – 7%
Department wise, remote workers are more likely to work in IT, facilities and operations, sales and administration, and customer support.
Remote Worker Hiring Involves Challenges
Typically, employee injury or illness including those of remote workers is compensable if the injury/illness “arises out of” (what the worker was doing at the time of injury) and “in the course of” (when the injury happened) employment, irrespective of the location where the injury occurs. Employees have the responsibility to prove that the injury is a work-related one. Moreover, the worker must be able to show that he/she was acting in the interest of the employer when the injury occurred. The hazards a worker may encounter when working from home, which is also his/her workplace, are considered hazards related to his or her work. Employers hiring remote workers are responsible for ensuring a safe work environment for these employees just as for workers who work on company property.
The greatest challenge an employer hiring telecommuting employees has is effective management. Managing workers’ compensation claims of employees who are not within your sight could be frustrating. It is important therefore, to have a good telecommunications policy to ensure that remote workers are properly managed. The following best practices could help in this regard.
Best Practices for Managing Remote Workers
- Ensure that employees’ homes are safe for business: The employer can require that employees comply with the health and safety policy of their organization. Request the workers to fill out a work-from-home safety survey. Alternately, conduct an inspection yourself. Make sure that the equipment and furnishings are all ergonomically designed. The lighting and ventilation should be adequate. Check whether there are existing hazards such as exposed extension cords. The building should also have sufficient fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. It is best to take a photograph of the work premises to keep in your records. Checking the work environment once in 6 months will help ensure that the worker is in compliance with all requirements.
- Clearly define working hours: The working hours of the remote worker should be clearly defined. Injuries that occur outside of working hours and off-premises need not be compensated. Defining employee working hours is also essential from the point of view of fair labor policy. Fair labor regulation ensures that workers are not overworked. Working hours can be defined through the use of software, camera or other means. The software will help you track working hours as well as break time. CCTV cameras can be installed in the employee’s work premises that will help identify whether an injury was caused as a result of negligence or away from the working area. Defining work hours as well as meal and rest periods will help establish whether an injury was “in the course of” employment.
- Have guidelines in place: You must have clear guidelines for a home office, including a designated work area. This could help minimize the possibility of injury claims. Also, provide training for workstation setup and safety measures to take, including ergonomics.
- Clearly identify job functions: To avoid unnecessary claims, job functions, roles and responsibilities for telecommuters must be clearly spelt out in a document. If an injury occurs when the employee is not carrying out his/her job functions, no compensation would be made.
- Make sure that the employee’s homeowner’s policy is up-to-date: Request employees to check their homeowner’s insurance coverage. This would ensure that their homes and property are covered in the event of damage done during working hours. Employers should obtain documentation about this and keep it on file.
- Maintain direct contact: Only this will help determine if the employee is having any difficulties. When a worker is stressed, he/she will be less productive and accident prone. So, have the necessary telecommuting technology tools in place to ensure smooth communication and collaboration with all remote workers. To see their home work environment, schedule weekly or biweekly video calls.
- Guard against cyber attacks: All devices such as laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones your employees use must be protected adequately. You can have an IT professional set up a secure connection from the worker’s home to your organization network. Make sure that the employees use only your company’s equipment.
- Ensure you have proper coverage for remote employees: Communicate with your insurance company regarding your remote working arrangements. An insurance specialist may advise you to obtain management liability insurance that would cover any legal expenses arising from having work-from-home employees.
Remote workers’ compensation insurance provides financial protection and security for telecommuting workers. As a medical record review company assisting workers’ compensation attorneys, we understand how important it is to put in place a fair compensation plan. Business organizations must have a clear telecommunication policy to reduce claims from remote workers. State laws vary regarding what is considered a work-related injury and it is best to define the worker’s normal working hours and job functions. Employers must closely consider, evaluate, and adopt a plan that will help face the legal and practical challenges when utilizing a remote workforce. They must understand their responsibilities as an employer of offsite workers. This will help protect yourself as well as your workforce from various liabilities inherent in working from home.