|TELECOMMUTING: DREAM COME TRUE?|
November 14, 1997
in this forum:
What is the best way to convince employers to try telecommuting? Does the U.S. lead the way, or are other countries implementing successful telecommuting systems? Are there any tax deductions that encourage telecommuting? What is the accountability process for telecommutiers to show their work? Additional questions and comments.
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Vanessa Yacola of Baltimore, Maryland asks: While I can see the savings realized by companies who allow their employees to telecommute, I wonder if there has been an increase in liabilities. For example, has their been an increase in worker's compensation claims? Are the telecommuters homeowner's insurance rates increased? I am interested in any information available on telecommuting liability, litigation that has been filed related to telecommuting, increased/decrease risks faced by employers who operate their business using telecommuters.
Mr. Jack Nilles responds:The key to the workers' comp issue lies in establishing a specific, written agreement between employer and telecommuter about workplace safety. That is, the prospective home-based telecommuter agrees to maintain the home office in such a condition that it will be at least as hazard-free as the "regular" office during pre-agreed-upon work hours. This agreement may include a clause that the home office is subject to inspection by the employer's plant safety types, given appropriate prior notice (the inspection clause is usually required but rarely executed, in my experience).
As to history, I know of no workers' comp claim by a telecommuter in the past 25 years, so there isn't much case law in this respect. Telecommuters have told me that they wouldn't file a workers' comp claim even if they did break a leg while in their home office; they might then be forced to go back to the office full time. The only telecommuting-related lawsuit in which I have been involved was against an employer who refused to allow a handicapped employee to telecommute. The employer lost the case in federal court and was assessed damages.
As to insurance, one of the issues to be resolved in setting up telecommuting in an employee's home is: who owns the equipment and who pays any relevant insurance hikes. Typically, if the employee owns the equipment it is up to the employee to provide insurance coverage, such as a floater for a homeowners/renters policy. If the company owns the equipment then the company usually handles the insurance-but with a clause in the agreement requiring the telecommuter to take reasonable care of the equipment (not let two-year-olds smear jelly on the keyboard, etc.).
Dr. Michelle Weil responds:The reported worker's compensation data from the companies that have programs for telecommuting, including the City of Los Angeles, AT&T and Intel shows a very minor incident rate to this point, perhaps as low as 5%. They are concerned, however, with the prospect of increased cases as their programs become more formalized and have increased participation. This is, however, a potential source of TechnoStress for the employer who may feel that employees are more likely to injure themselves at home than at the workplace. Employers can create an "in-home safety checklist" for telecommuters and store it in their personnel file, as one means of offsetting their concerns. I suggest you create your home work environment with the same safety features as your office work setting. Set aside a separate location for your home office and make it as "office-like" as possible. Then either invite your boss to visit and see how safe it is or take a photo collage to show management where you work.
As far as home insurance goes, that would be something your insurance carrier needs to address. One attorney we know says that occasional work from home is typically covered in your basic policy - but check it out!