Working from home can be precarious. The home printer is upstairs and the dog lives under my desk, so it’s not a stretch to imagine a scenario where I trip over the dog and/or slip down the stairs while running to retrieve a document. And what if I schedule an early Zoom interview and spill my coffee mug in my lap at my desk or get tangled in the laptop cord before dawn? Then there are the incessant package deliveries to the front door, which may contain work-related materials, and require lifting or dragging sometimes heavy objects across the porch. At some point it will snow and I will have to shovel the driveway to retrieve the latest issue of Business Insurance from the mailbox.
With some workforces already remote, many employers are wondering how to manage a flexible workforce, perhaps a mix of telecommuting and office work, which is unlikely to return to the routine of five days a week in the office. previously. the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers usually have a plan they follow to prevent or manage slips, trips and falls in the workplace, but what happens when home is now office and employees get hurt then that they perform work-related tasks during “working hours” that no longer correspond to working hours? once-clear 9-5? As we report on page 8, working from home is fast becoming an issue that will hit employers and workers’ compensation insurers, with increased exposures and the likelihood of injury among their top concerns.
Each case must be assessed individually, and worker compensation laws differ from state to state. It is therefore likely that investigating how an injury occurred at home and whether workers’ compensation benefits apply is more complex and time-consuming, especially if there is no witnesses.
Injured workers will likely have a harder time proving that their injury occurred within the course and scope of employment, and employers will have a harder time establishing whether a claim has merit. Questions will also arise as to how the back-and-forth rule, which applies to workers injured on a regular journey to and from the workplace, and which, with few exceptions, establishes a fairly clear line that workers comp benefits do not apply during a typical commute, will answer. If there’s any good news for employers, it’s that state lawmakers — Ohio in the first place — are beginning to set some parameters around what constitutes a work-related injury that occurs at home.
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As flexible work schedules become the norm, it’s not just the risks of slips, trips and falls that are of concern. A recent poll in the UK found that working from home was causing an increase in back problems among young adults, with two-thirds of 18-29 year olds saying they had suffered from back pain during the pandemic. The poll also found that more than 20% said they worked from their bed when at home, while one in six sat on a sofa.
While in-person ergonomic reviews of home office setups are a thing of the past, employers will need to find different ways to keep workers safe and prevent repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel. As the future of work continues to evolve, employers must be prepared and ready to manage risk. Fortunately, advances in technology and lessons learned during the pandemic should help.