Remote and hybrid work arrangements, which were put in place when pandemic shutdowns forced many workers to stay home, have left employers with lingering safety concerns even as COVID-19 s fades.
Many ergonomic concerns related to remote working were well known before the pandemic, but with home offices being commonplace, these issues require an extra level of attention, sources say. And employers need to be especially mindful of workers’ compensation risks that have evolved as employees continue to operate from remote locations.
Employers can use technology to help set up remote employees and train them in security protocols, they say.
A workers’ compensation claim filed in a state where an employee did not previously work could create problems if the employer does not update its records and documents, said Peter R. Siegel, attorney for the practice groups of the Labor and Employment and Litigation at Greenspoon Marder. LLP in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“The employer could become liable not only for the claim, medical expenses and lost income, but could also be subject to penalties and fines in the state in which the claim was filed,” said Mr. Siegel. “We tell companies all the time that you need to track your employees better.”
“Employers unfortunately fail to have worker compensation policies that accurately reflect their workforce,” he said. Many assumed the pandemic would end quickly and “still operate under an outdated policy, which means nowhere in the policy does it contemplate the reality of having employees across the United States.”
The fix usually requires an investment of time to sort out the coverage.
“Employers need to come to terms with their broker and insurance company and make sure their worker compensation policy reflects this new reality of remote working,” Siegel said.
Some employers get “all-state policies” that give them flexibility if they have a multi-state workforce, while others buy a separate policy for remote workers, he said. he declares.
Insurers may provide a policy that allows employers to list the residences and workplaces of all employees.
“One of the key issues in managing this type of risk is determining compensation,” said Rich Ives, vice president of worker claims at Travelers Cos. Inc. in Hartford, Connecticut. That means determining whether an injury occurred within the scope and scope of the job, he said.
Insurers will also want to know if an injury was related to a pre-existing condition, Mr Ives said. That’s the goal of a travelers unit that investigates applicants’ medical histories to determine if any injuries occurred before working remotely, he said.
Polly James, senior director of risk management at Feld Entertainment Inc. in Palmetto, Fla., who also worked in risk management for a major hotel company, said most employees wouldn’t try to cheat employers. “Most people who have an accident at home are more likely to take the blame themselves and not submit a claim for workers,” she said.
This seems to be true for Lockton Cos. LLC, said Paul Primavera, the broker’s executive vice president and national head of risk control services in Irvine, Calif. The onus is on the remote worker to prove whether the injuries are work-related, and the broker didn’t see a noticeable difference in claims because workers moved their offices to their homes, he said.
But employers increase the chances of worker claims if they ignore employee home office ergonomics, experts say.
“The time they spend on their computers is skyrocketing, and the potential for worker ergonomics-related complaints may increase with remote workers,” said Liz Petersen, San Diego quality manager at the knowledge center of the Society for Human Resource Management. .
“Many people who started working from a virtual office two years ago could still be sitting in the same chair in their kitchen and working at the same table,” said Chris Hayes, assistant vice president based in Hartford responsible for risk control for workers’ compensation and transportation. at Travelers.
“If you have someone working from home for any period of time, you need to make sure they have a good ergonomic setup” which includes a chair that supports proper posture as well as screen height , keyboard reach, mouse position and other appropriate features, he said.
Alan Roberts, senior risk engineering consultant at Zurich Resilience Solutions in San Francisco, a unit of Zurich Insurance Group Ltd., said many companies use self-assessment software to identify and manage ergonomic risk factors when workers report problems.
Employers should emphasize the importance of early reporting of discomfort, Roberts said. Knowing as early as possible what workers are concerned about can reveal the kinds of changes that need to be made and get them back to good health faster, he said.
Ideally, ergonomics training should take place before a worker moves to a remote location, according to Roberts and other experts.
Close attention to ergonomics has apparently paid off for employers, said Jennifer Law, vice president, senior loss control consultant, Lockton Cos. LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We see the risk,” she said, but we haven’t seen an increase in workers’ compensation claims.
Ms Law said employers have been forced by the pandemic shutdowns to advise workers on setting up remote offices and provide them with furniture and equipment designed to keep them safe. Many are consulting with employees virtually to determine their office needs and contracting with third-party vendors to help set up workspaces, she said.