Do you need workers’ comp insurance for remote workers?
Recently, the term “home office” has taken on an entirely new meaning. Working from home, location-independent, offsite: Whatever you wish to call it, remote work has become a norm rather than an outlier in the pandemic-era professional world.
If someone can do a job outside of the office, more than likely, a company will allow its employees to do so. “Work from anywhere” options have allowed more flexibility in work hours and expanded talent pools.
Though this might be the working norm of the near future, you might not have considered what effect it might have on securing workers’ compensation insurance. After all, your teams are going to be working from the relative safety and comfort of their homes. You can’t possibly have a work-related injury in an employee’s home...right? Even if an employee hurts themselves during the workday, are you still liable when they’re not at an official worksite?
Well, if the answer were simply “no,” this would be the end of the article, and we would say good luck to you. As surprising as it may sound, there are instances where a workers’ comp incident can occur in a remote work environment.
Will workers’ comp cover employees who work at home?
Before answering that question, we should address whether you could have an on-the-job injury happen from the home workspace.
Consider this scenario:
You have a customer response team working remotely doing at least the standard 40 hours a week, sometimes more voluntarily during high-volume periods. Every crew member has their hands on a keyboard most of the day, following up on client communication threads, managing support cases, communicating internally to keep all colleagues in the loop—all the usual job duties. One day, one of these telecommuting teammates starts to feel numbness in their right hand. Not wanting to ignore a problem until it gets bad, they schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible. Then comes the bad news that all that typing has given them a serious case of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Now, this may have happened in your employee’s house, but it can still be considered a work-related injury. Regardless of where someone is, their location is considered a worksite if they are performing duties related to their job. Remember: Any injury that occurs while performing those duties can be subject to workers’ compensation.
What constitutes a workers’ compensation claim-eligible situation and what doesn’t in these remote work environments? The lines are a little blurry, but most importantly, the injury would need to have happened while working. Slamming the refrigerator door on one’s hand during a lunch break may not constitute a work-related injury, but back pain from the employee’s home office seating arrangement might.
State laws have not quite caught up to the new remote working trends, but courts and insurers are more easily able to sort things out. It would be key to have your remote employees report any injury during the business day as soon as it occurs, with as much detail as possible to document the incident. From there, you can consult with the appropriate human resources and legal professionals to determine the best course of action. And, of course, consult your workers’ compensation insurance policy. (If the one you have now doesn’t seem adequate, Huckleberry can help! Say goodbye to the legacy insurance companies with a 100% online and affordable experience.)
Some remote employers can be exempt from workers’ compensation laws, but we don’t recommend it. Employees can still take legal action against their employer. Without a workers’ comp policy, you could end up with medical bills and lost income. You need to explore employer’s liability insurance, which can further protect you.
How workers’ comp coverage and claims work for remote employees
You know you need the coverage for your remote staff, but how does all of this work regarding claims filing?
This is where the varying state laws can make the answer a bit complex.
For starters, you should have insurance for the states in which your central office and any other company-owned locations reside. But, you also want to obtain coverage for the states where your workers will work from. If the employee is working most or all of the time from one central location—in this case, their house—that location’s state would be considered their working state for the course of employment. If the worker moves but retains a position with the company, the new resident state may become the working state. When you hire your remote workforce, be sure to research the workers’ compensation laws of your staffers’ home states.
Which states’ coverage rules apply in a workers’ comp claim? Well, reciprocal agreements exist between some states, in which employees from one state can be “brought into” another state for the workers’ compensation policy. Your insurer would need to provide you with what is known as “extraterritorial coverage” that you would also provide information about to your remote employees’ state agencies.
How does a claim work in these situations? The answer varies depending on what happened, where it happened, and other factors. The injured worker should ideally report it immediately to someone in a supervisory role. You would gather as much information as possible and file paperwork according to your established company policies and state laws. A combination of your HR and legal departments and your insurer can determine if workers’ compensation benefits apply.
How the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the face of workers’ comp
The coronavirus pandemic has upended life, work, and how workers’ compensation is handled. Remote work shifted from a luxury to a necessity, and cleanliness standards have become even stricter in offices. The definition of a safe work environment includes being free of hostile behavior and having social distancing protocols, masks onsite, and hand sanitizer at the ready.
With these adaptations comes a fresh look at workers’ comp. Could testing positive for COVID-19 be considered workplace injury? And, how does this apply to a growing remote labor force?
Click here to learn more about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation.
Even as businesses begin to reopen their main offices, remote work is booming. Even though the laws and regulations may not have fully caught up with this changing trend, clarity will arrive as more cases occur.
The best thing for small business owners is to communicate openly with their remote staff and ensure they have safe work premises wherever they set up. Much like you would with your main office, guide these workers to have their home offices be just as danger-free: Designated work areas should be distinct, clear of clutter, and set up with ergonomic furniture.
Implementing proper workers’ compensation coverage in a remote workforce may seem complex and ever-changing, but you can navigate the challenges.