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Pro-Tips (Part 2) for a Good Company Telecommuting Policy: Safety and Workers’ Comp

In part one of this series, we discussed how to write a well-considered and effective company telecommuting policy with respect to meal and rest breaks. Even if you have employees who work from home or otherwise work remotely, California law still requires that the employees be “given” rest and meal breaks. When employees work remotely, they are generally in charge of when they work so it is difficult to “give” them rest and meal breaks. That is why it is important to have solid and well-drafted company policies with respect to remote employees. A talented and proven San Diego corporate attorney can help draft your company’s policy to make it legal-risk-reducing and compliant with California labor laws. In this article, we discuss some pro-tips concerning how your telecommuting policy should deal with safety and workers’ compensation.

What Happens if the Telecommuting Employee is Injured While Working?

In simple terms, if a telecommuting worker is injured while working, it is no different legally speaking than if the worker were injured at your Company’s primary workplace. Employers are responsible for workplace injuries. If you allow workers to work from home, then their home is a “workplace.” All San Diego and California employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance and, if the telecommuting worker is injured, he or she is eligible to apply for benefits in the same manner all other employees. This leads to some strange results. For example, there is the somewhat famous case of the Oregon JC Penny interior designer that successfully obtained workers’ compensation benefits when she tripped over her own dog while working at home. See news report here. The relevant court held that,

  • Since the employee was allowed to work from home and
  • Since she was walking to her garage to retrieve fabric samples (a “work task”) and
  • Because her dog was part of her “workplace” environment and
  • Since she was injured when she fell, then

she was deemed to be injured “while working.” As such, she was entitled to claim workers’ compensation benefits.

While your business will not be able to eliminate these sorts of workplace injury claims, it is still essential that your policies and procedures have rules with respect to safety. Such rules protect your business from governmental investigations and can potentially decrease your workers’ compensation premiums. Among the key provisions to include in your telecommuting policy:

  • Requiring that work-from-home employees not engage in other activities while working such as cooking, taking care of children, driving, operating machinery, using power tools, etc.
  • Requiring employees to use a designated workspace
  • Requiring that the designated workspace be free from dangerous objects, chemicals, and other hazards
  • Requiring the use of furniture that is safe and not defective
  • Requiring a pet-free home workspace
  • Requiring work-from-home employee to sign a certification that their workspace is safe and free from hazards
  • Requiring the employees to clock in and out — this reduces the risk of injury claims to only those time periods when the employee is “clocked in”
  • Requiring immediate notice of any claimed injury
  • And more

Two additional procedures should be considered — annual or semi-annual inspections and/or requiring annually or semi-annually that the employee provide photos/video of the designated workspace.

As noted, these policies and procedures will not eliminate safety issues with respect to work-from-home or remote employees, but they will help limit the legal risks.

Call San Diego Corporate Law Today

For more information, contact attorney Michael Leonard, Esq., of San Diego Corporate Law. Contact Mr. Leonard by calling (858) 483-9200 or via email. Mr. Leonard can help with employee-related matters such as employment contracts, drafting and/or reviewing company employee policies and procedures, creating and/or updating employee handbooks, and more. Like us on Facebook.

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