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Property Casualty

Tackling Telework and Workers’ Compensation Claims

Megan Carpenter
Megan Carpenter
Claims Consultant, PC

Looking back to less than two years ago, I remember working from home was a luxury. Today, COVID-19 has made working from home the norm and time in the office few and far between.

Simply put, COVID-19 has brought change to the working world, and some of that change comes with implications…especially in the worker’s compensation arena.

Workers’ Compensation Considerations in COVID-19 Environment

Many of us moved, downsized, remodeled, or accommodated our living area to create an office space. Those home workspaces are no longer within the immediate control of our employers, and new hazards exist that once did not. Home life can easily intermix with work life.

As I have learned through working with clients as well as assisting with an upcoming September 30th MVP Law seminar (“Lessons Learned & Moving Forward: The Impact of COVID-19 and a Remote Workforce on Workers’ Compensation Claims”), employers now have to consider various scenarios.

For example: What happens when an employee gets up to change their laundry in between meetings and happens to fall? Would that be considered a work-related injury?

That has previously largely depended on the state’s jurisdiction and precedent being established, but now injuries sustained off-premises are a reality that can’t be ignored.

State Statutes for Workers’ Compensation

Each state’s statute should somehow address what is “in the course of” employment and how far the employer’s premises will extend within the employee’s own home.

For example: In Iowa, an injury sustained on the employer’s premises during the employee’s hours of employment almost always will be compensable. Therefore, investigation is key in determining the compensability of a remote work incident, as employees’ houses will now be seen as the worksites. The investigation of these compensation claims can be difficult due to lack of corroborating evidence, witnesses, etc.

Employers, in tandem with their carriers, will need to analyze the personal comfort and conveniences allowed within the statue and determine when that employment relationship ceases.

In Minnesota, courts have determined that an employee who got a cup of coffee while working at home and fell was compensable because they were attending to their personal comfort and only got coffee to increase their productivity.

South Carolina courts ruled compensability where the claimant was carrying heavy books that led to injury because the employer directed claimant to take them home.

Taking it a step farther, what about heart attacks at home? Despite often being considered idiopathic in nature, some examples where courts found compensability includes cardiovascular strain due to extended time sitting at home, a heart attack while shoveling snow because the employee was only leaving home to visit customers, and a heart attack while on a treadmill because the employee was making phone calls to clients.

As you can see, there are pivotal exposures to employers with wild unknowns of how to control and challenge workers’ compensation claims.

Tips to Mitigate Workers’ Compensation Losses

So, what can you do? Here are some tips you, as an employer, can deploy to help mitigate loss:

  • Identify tasks employees are NOT expected to do while working
  • Define works hours and expectations of when your employees should be working (i.e. approval from supervisor before allowing work outside defined hours)
  • Develop a telework policy that constitutes items such as eligible positions for telework, process to report hours, coordination with attendance policy, number of days and expected work hours, requesting accommodations, etc.
  • Consider the ergonomics of an employee’s workspace and recommendations on how to maintain a safe and hazard free area

This pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented shift of the workforce to remote work, and employers are constantly having to adapt to new challenges surfacing daily.

If you’re interested in learning more about that, I encourage you to join MVP Law and other insurance professionals (including me), HR professionals, and employers virtually for a free 1-day  seminar on September 30th (9 a.m.-4 p.m.). Topics of interest that will be covered include workers’ compensation updates in Iowa and Nebraska, lessons learned from remote workers, handling multiple injury claims, and more.

If you can’t join us for the webinar, don’t hesitate to reach out. We have workers’ compensation claims experts ready and willing to help answer any questions you have!

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