Telecommuting: Working From Home

The concept of flexible work arrangements in which employees work from home has grown increasingly common in recent years. The concept offers employers an opportunity to reduce overhead costs while increasing the effectiveness of their operation. The savings on office space, travel time, and commuting can be mutually beneficial to employer and employee, and the flexible work arrangement may be considered a tremendously valuable benefit to employees looking for more work-life balance. However, as working from home or telecommuting has grown there have been new issues created involving safety and workers' compensation. Fortunately, the solutions for these issues are not that complicated and easily allow the benefits of the program to outweigh the complications of initiating the program.

Safety

There is a fine line between the employer's and the employee's responsibilities for the safety of the remote site. OSHA has developed a position differentiating and defining two different types of home worksites; "home-based worksites" and "home offices."

OSHA, in defining the two types of home worksites, has acknowledged that there are possible workplace hazards in both types of worksites. However, OSHA will only inspect or expect the employer to inspect home-based worksites (i.e. home manufacturing, assembly of electronics, etc.) and does not inspect home offices, will not hold employers liable for employees' home offices, and does not expect employers to inspect home offices of their employees.

Although OSHA does not regulate home offices, it is important that safety measures be taken to avoid the likelihood of workers' compensation claims. Employees who telecommute may not be aware of potential safety hazards in their home-based or alternate worksite. One way employers can ensure the safety of the alternate worksite is to provide each telecommuting employee with a safety checklist. After completing the checklist, the employee should review the checklist with his or her manager.

Workers' Compensation

Even though the employee may be hundreds of miles away from the main office, employers are responsible for work-related injuries or illnesses that occur in home offices. In a case involving a Tennessee employer, because the employee was hired and employed in Tennessee before moving out of state, Tennessee workers' compensation insurance regulations applied to the employee.

Workers' compensation claims can arise from a number of varying factors and it is important for the employer to recognize these factors and mitigate the risks associated with them. One such issue is that of employee visitors to the telecommuting employee's home office. If an employee visits the telecommuter for a meeting or other work related activity and is injured on-site it is likely that a claim can be filed. However, by developing a telecommuter policy, it is possible to limit the access of other employees to the home office, thereby reducing the likelihood of such a claim. Furthermore, it is important that the employer establish in the policy a statement that the employer will not be responsible for any injury at the home office other than that of the telecommuter.

A Good Fit

Telecommuting isn't a good fit for certain jobs, but may work well for jobs involving data entry, telemarketing, project development, and other assignments that do not require the employee to be on-site at the place of business. Also, not all employees are well-suited to work at home. Employees allowed to work from home should have the following traits: adaptability, decisiveness, dependability, tolerance for stress, resourcefulness, and the ability to self-manage their work duties.

SESCO Management Consultants is available to assist with telecommuting issues. You may contact us by phone at 423-764-4127, or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com .