An overlooked consequence of employees working from home is you’re still responsible for their safety.
Whether they’re newly working from home due to COVID-19 or seasoned telecommuters, you remain responsible for providing a safe workplace.
Yet nearly all employers fail to consider employee safety—and their organization’s liability—when employees work from home.
Home accidents and hazards that can be your responsibility include:
- Exposure to infection from work visitor
Consider these risks in employee homes
- A basement or attic office with uneven stairs and three space heaters: trip and fall injuries, fire, smoke inhalation, burns, property damage
- Computer, printer, UPS unit, charging cords and a two lamps plugged into daisy-chained extension cords: fire, smoke inhalation, burns, property damage
- Boxes lugged from the office strewn on floor: trip and fall injuries
- Non-functioning smoke detectors: fire, smoke inhalation, burns, property damage
- No carbon monoxide detectors: CO2 asphyxiation
- Top-heavy six-foot filing cabinet: tips over and crushes employee (or child)
- Outdated (and never trained to use) portable fire extinguisher: fire, smoke inhalation, burns, property damage
- Supervisor or co-worker comes to drop off/pick up work: exposes employee to COVID-19.
How federal law treats work from home
You sent your employee to work in a formally designated workplace for an unspecified period of time, all according to your written policy and approved Business Continuity Plan.
You provided office equipment and you pay for internet access, require use of your VPN, and require your employee to put in a day’s work according to the job description you mandated.
The precedent here in almost every state is that any injuries will be addressed with Workers Compensation.
What about OSHA?
The agency has flipped-flopped on this for 20 years. One time, it ruled that all its regs applied. Then it withdrew that ruling in 2000. Does that mean OSHA can’t be in your life regarding you, the employer, to keep your work from home employees safe?
Don’t count on that in front of a jury.
Judges are the sole decision makers on what standards to use at trial. For employee safety in a designated workplace, where would a judge turn for those standards?
The judge would read OSHA’s General Duty Clause, and then dive down to the relevant OSHA standard. Like it or not, that’s how it works in the real world.
Free: Work From Home Employee Checklist
To keep your employees safe—and protect you—here’s your Work From Home Safety Checklist For Employees.
Distribute it to all personnel working from home now, plus those about to begin working from home.
Ask them to complete the checklist, date and sign it, and return a copy to you.
This improves their safety (and productivity), and helps protect you from liability.
To further protect your liability and engage your work from home employees, let’s train them in work from home safety.
We’ll conduct a live online training session based on a version of the checklist customized to your organization.
Remember, investing in your employees’ safety—whether at your workplace or their home—boosts morale. I have the data to prove it.
2 Action Steps