Workers’ Compensation Claims and the Remote Workforce

Until a few weeks ago, the percentage of U.S. workers who performed their jobs from home had steadily risen, year after year, for more than a decade. Then, suddenly, the efforts to contain the spread and impact of the COVID-19 virus led many employers, in industries where it is possible to do so, to require that their employees work from home. It may be some time before precise numbers are available for just how many Americans worked from home during stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders. However, in How Many Jobs Can be Done at Home? a National Bureau Of Economic Research working paper published on April 6th, Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman present findings that show “37 percent of U.S. jobs can plausibly be performed at home.”

“The coronavirus outbreak has triggered an anxious trial run for remote work at a grand scale,” writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. “What we learn in the next few months could help shape a future of work that might have been inevitable, with or without a once-in-a-century public-health crisis.”

That future would most certainly have a bearing on the unique workers’ compensation-related issues related to a remote, at-home workforce. Insureds and the organizations that handle Workers’ Compensation claims will need to be ready.

The Risks Workers Face When Working from Home

In an interview with Alicja Grzadkowska for the Business Insurance America article The workers’ comp risks when employees work from home, Matt Zender, senior vice president of workers’ compensation strategy AmTrust Financial Services addressed the most common causes of injuries sustained by remote workers.

According to Zender, poor ergonomics due to a lack of proper equipment and cramped workspaces is most commonly a contributing factor in work-related injuries sustained at home. “This is a notable concern seeing as one of the exposures arising from work from home situations is a cumulative trauma injury that stems from sitting in an uncomfortable workspace over the course of several months, such as back pain or carpal tunnel,” writes Grzadkowska.

Fatigue can also play a role. At issue are the hours that many work-at-home employees tend to work when their home is also their office. “AmTrust sees many instances where employees who work from home put in more hours and have a harder time adhering to a set schedule,” writes Grzadkowska.  As a result, employees may find themselves getting increasingly exhausted. This can lead to issues with safe work practices.

Should the current “experiment” in remote work result in more employees working from home in the future, insurers may find themselves with an influx of claims stemming from these factors; adjusters will have to adapt to this new paradigm.

Limiting Exposure to Workers’ Comp Liability

Is there a way to reduce the exposure faced by insureds’ businesses when it comes to employees working from home? In the PropertyCasualty360 article Workers’ compensation liability and the remote employee attorney Zachary M. Rubinich addresses the risk work-from-home arrangements can pose to insured businesses and organizations.

“While there are benefits both to the employees and employers for this type of work arrangement, remote workplace options must be adopted with care to avoid any legal liability by the employer,” he writes. “Since more companies are allowing employees to work remotely from home, there is certainly an increased potential workers’ compensation risk for employers under a state’s workers’ compensation statute since the employer has very limited to no control over the home premises of its employee.”

Insurers can benefit from offering guidance to policyholders to help them limit exposure to workers’ compensation liability and reduce the cost of claims. The SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) recommends that employers put into place practices that may limit workers’ compensation liability:

  • Create a telecommuting policy that outlines expectations for employees who work from home.
  • Establish guidelines for a home office, such as a designated work area, and provide training related to workstation setup and safety measures, including ergonomics.
  • When appropriate and possible, conduct periodic checks of employee home offices to help identify and eliminate work area safety hazards.
  • Set fixed work hours and meal and rest periods for telecommuters. Doing so can help establish whether an injury was “in the course of” employment.

According to Rubinich, insureds may also want to look into practices that include “check-ins, geo-tracking, equipment tracking or other milestone reporting that proves where your employee is working.” When in place, should an injury be reported, an insured employer may not be responsible for an injury if they are able to show an employee had not “checked-in or equipment [was] somewhere outside a designated area.”

How Origami Risk Can Help

Origami Risk is a scalable, cloud-based platform that has all of the functionality required for the end-to-end handling of Workers’ Compensation claims, as well as claims across all lines of coverage.

A SaaS claims management system, the Origami platform combines workflow automation and digital engagement tools that can help insurers and claims organizations keep clients, claimants, brokers, and agents informed, while also streamlining the claims handling processes, drive the productivity of adjusters, and inform decisions that contribute to the swift, cost-effective closure of Workers’ Compensation claims.

To learn more about how the tools available in Origami can help you take your claims administration processes to the next level, view our recent webinar Transforming Your Workers’ Compensation Claims Organization with Digital Engagement