Much has changed in the two-and-a-half years since March 2020, when most of the country went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and most businesses moved to remote work models. As a result of mass layoffs and employee absences due to COVID-19, the Great Resignation was born.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs during this time as a result of COVID-19 and the initiation of the Federal Stimulus program. However, since the fall of 2021, workforce participation has been on the incline and by February 2022, 1.87 million workers had rejoined the workforce, which was triple the 621,000 who returned in the three prior months. Part of the reason is businesses have adopted more flexible remote work options to entice candidates, with the knowledge that their business can still run effectively without the workforce being in the office five days a week.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, most workers who said their job responsibilities could be handled remotely never or rarely worked from home before the pandemic. Only one out of five survey respondents said they worked from home all or most of the time before COVID-19.
However, by the time of the December 2020 survey, 71% of those workers were doing their job from home most of the time or all the time. And most of them admitted that they would want to keep working from home after the pandemic.
Now that workers are coming back, employers have redirected their focus to the health and safety of their employees. Now more than ever, businesses are addressing overall employee wellness, including both physical injuries and mental health. A joint study performed by Eurofound and the United Nations International Labor Office found 41% of employees who frequently work remotely experienced elevated stress levels while only 25% of onsite employees endure high stress. Employers will need to step outside the singular focus of physical injury and take into consideration their employees’ emotional and mental well-being.
From an employer’s perspective, the shift to remote work as a new normal has been challenging in many ways. Some of the main concerns involve the safety of the home environment, mental health and stress, and workers’ compensation insurance. In this article, we will examine workers’ compensation (WC) for the remote worker and offer ways you can help your staff work more safely at home both now and in the future.
Does Workers’ Comp Cover Remote Workers?
Yes, remote and telecommuting workers typically are covered under WC policies if the injury or illness occurs while an employee is completing a work task during work hours.
In most cases, the remote worker has the burden of proof, meaning that they must be able to demonstrate that they were acting in the interest of their employer at the time they got sick or injured. However, the courts have found that, even though the employer does not have control over an employee’s home environment, lack of evidence is not a reason to deny claims.
Therefore, employers are responsible for providing the same safe work environment for both their on-site workers and remote workers.
What Are the Most Common Work-from-Home Injuries?
The challenge comes from the fact that your employees’ home environment does not have the same safety standards you have put in place at your workplace. For example, they are at greater risk of slipping on water spilled from a dog bowl, tripping over their child’s toys, or falling down the stairs.
The two most frequent categories of injuries that claims examiners see with work from home injuries are cumulative injuries (repetitive stress, usually resulting from poor ergonomics) and slips, trips, and falls. Let’s look at these injuries more in depth, including prevention measures.
The term “cumulative injuries” refers to damage and pain caused by repetitive movement and overuse. For the telecommuter, many of these injuries, which include painful conditions affecting muscles, tendons, and nerves, result from poor ergonomics at the workstation. Carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, bursitis, and back pain are some of the most common cumulative injuries.
An ergonomic workstation helps you sit comfortably at a computer screen. Your neck isn’t bent back, your arms aren’t extended beyond your side or lifted, your wrists and hands aren’t turned sideways or upward, your spine isn’t twisted, and your lower back is supported.
Slips, Trips, and Falls While Working from Home
Slips, trips, and falls are some of the most frequently reported accidents in the US, according to the National Safety Council.
Slips are when you lose your footing and balance. Trips occur when you lose your balance because part of your body hits a fixed object. Both occurrences can cause a fall. Falls also can happen when a means of support, such as a railing, fails or is missing.
Most workplaces have a specific plan to address slip, trip, and fall hazards, but when you transfer work activities to the home, the risk of these injuries can increase. While we are working at home, we may not be aware of potential hazards, such as toys, spills, or phone charger cords.